Susan Ahn Cuddy

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Susan Ahn Cuddy
Ahn Siblings World War II.jpg
Ahn siblings, with Ralph on the left, Philip in the center, and Susan on the right
Birth nameSusan Ahn
Born(1915-01-16)January 16, 1915
Los Angeles, California, U.S.[1]
DiedJune 24, 2015(2015-06-24) (aged 100)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Alma materSan Diego State University
Spouse(s)Frank Cuddy
Other workLibrary of Congress[2]
National Security Agency[2]
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branchFlag of the United States Navy.svg United States Navy
Years of service1942–1946
RankUS-O3 insignia.svg Lieutenant[2]
UnitLink Training, Gunnery, Intelligence
Battles/warsWorld War II

Susan Ahn Cuddy (Korean: 안수산, Hanja:安繡山; January 16, 1915 – June 24, 2015) was the first female gunnery officer in the United States Navy. She was the eldest daughter of Korean independence activist Ahn Chang-ho and Helen Ahn, the first married Korean couple to immigrate to the United States in 1902. She joined the Navy in 1942 and served until 1946, reaching the rank of lieutenant. She was the first Asian-American woman to join the U.S. Navy.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Susan Ahn was born in 1915 in Los Angeles, California, as the eldest daughter of Dosan Ahn Changho and Helen Lee. In 1902, her parents were the first Korean married couple to immigrate to the United States. The couple tirelessly worked to liberate their mother country from Japanese colonization; Ahn Chang Ho would eventually give his life to that movement in 1938, after succumbing to injuries from his constant imprisonment and torture by the Japanese.[4]

As the family established themselves, the Ahn house[5] became a haven for many Korean immigrants. The Young Korean Academy (Hung Sa Dan)[6] made its headquarters at the Ahns' residence as a resource center for many Korean immigrants. Many exiled Korean patriots, including Soh Jaipil, the first Korean American citizen, visited the Ahns while they lived at 106 North Figueroa during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The third child of five, and eldest daughter, Susan always said that her parents' sacrifice and dedication to the Korean independence cause played a defining role in her own identity and values.[4]

During her youth, Ahn Cuddy worked for many of Dosan's independence organizations in Los Angeles. She attended Beaudry Elementary, Central Junior High and Belmont High School. She participated in sports such as baseball and field hockey. When she was at Los Angeles City College she was in charge of women's baseball, as well as playing second base. She played for the Bing Crosby Croonerettes softball team. She had to stop playing to keep her amateur status to play college baseball.

Ahn Cuddy graduated from San Diego State University in 1940 and joined the United States Navy in 1942, where she would serve until 1946.[7]


After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Ahn Cuddy enlisted in the United States Armed Forces and enrolled in the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She became the first Asian American woman in the Navy. This was at a time when anti-Asian sentiment in the country was high and women were still battling over sexism in the military. She told biographer John Cha, who wrote Willow Tree Shade: The Susan Ahn Cuddy Story (2002), "A lot of people thought that women didn't belong in the service. That made us try harder."[8]

She felt joining the Navy was a way to help free Korea from the harsh Japanese colonial era rule and was eager to join the Navy to fight the Japanese. She worked her way up in the Navy, becoming an instructor on Link Trainer flight simulators in 1943, teaching aviators how to maneuver in a simulator cockpit. Later she became the first female aerial gunnery officer in the Navy - in other words, she trained fighter pilots how to shoot down enemy aircraft. She knew how to work some guns men were having difficulty with. In Willow Tree Shade, Cha describes one incident where a white male pilot protested having to take directions from Ahn Cuddy because she was Asian and female. "Down here, you will shoot when I tell you to shoot!" she told the pilot.[citation needed]

Ahn Cuddy eventually became a Lieutenant and went on to work for US Navy Intelligence and the Library of Congress.[9] She worked for The National Security Agency in Washington, DC. During the Cold War, she was in charge of a think tank of over 300 agents working in the Russia section. She received a fellowship from the National Security Agency to study at the University of Southern California in 1956. Ahn Cuddy worked on many top secret projects for the Department of Defense and other agencies during her service with the United States government until 1959.[10]

Even today, Ahn Cuddy's accomplishments are considered remarkable and unparalleled.[7][11][12][13]

Personal life[edit]

Even in her personal life, Ahn Cuddy proved a trailblazer. In April 1947 she married Chief Petty Officer Francis X. "Frank" Cuddy,[14] an Irish-American. They defied anti-miscegenation laws and wed at the only place[10] that would marry them: a Navy chapel in Washington, D.C. Francis also worked for Navy Intelligence and the NSA. He was a code-breaker and helped the United States free Korea. He helped finance the Ahn family's Moongate restaurant business. In 1959 the couple moved to Los Angeles to raise their children and also in hopes of winning her mother's acceptance of her mixed-race marriage.[15]

The couple had two children, Philip "Flip" and Christine. Ahn Cuddy left the intelligence community in 1959, so she could spend more time with her children. Returning to California, she helped her eldest brother Philip Ahn (the pioneering Asian American actor) and sister Soorah run their popular Chinese restaurant, Moongate, in Panorama City. After Philip died in 1978, Ahn Cuddy largely filled the role of family representative, worked to archive her legendary family's records, and managed the restaurant until 1990.[7][13]

Later life[edit]

In 2003, the State Assembly of California of District 28 named Cuddy the Woman of the Year in honor of her commitment to public service. On October 5, 2006 she received the American Courage Award from the Asian American Justice Center in Washington D.C.[16]

In her elder years, she remained active, speaking at Navy functions and Korean American community events, even campaigning for presidential candidate Barack Obama. A breast cancer survivor, she helped raise money for the cause. She was honored with numerous accolades by government bodies and nonprofits. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors designated a "Susan Ahn Cuddy Day". Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who introduced the declaration, was an especially devoted fan: "These were all firsts as an Asian American woman in a man's world... Anti-Asian sentiment was brazenly prevalent, but that didn't deter Susan Ahn Cuddy—she just knew what her mission was."[7][17]

Death and legacy[edit]

Susan Ahn Cuddy died at her home in Northridge, California, on June 24, 2015.[18] She was 100 years old.

Her life story is the subject of the short biography Willow Tree Shade by John Cha.[3][7][13]


  • Dosan Ahn Chang Ho, 1878 – 1938 (father)
  • Helen Lee (Yi Hye Ryon), 1884 – 1969 (mother)
  • Philip Ahn, 1905 – 1978 (brother)
  • Philson Ahn, 1912 – 2001 (brother)
  • Soorah Ahn Buffum, 1917 - 2016 (sister)
  • Ralph Ahn, born 1926 - 2022 (brother)
  • Francis Xavier Cuddy, 1917 – 1998 (husband)
  • Christine Ahn Cuddy, born 1950 (daughter)
  • Philip Ahn Cuddy, born 1955 (son)

Awards and recognition[edit]

Date Award/recognition From
March 11, 1985 Appreciation of Service Independence Hall of Korea[citation needed]
August 15, 1987 National Merit Award #4803 Republic of South Korea from President Chun Doo Hwan[citation needed]
June 17, 1992 Appreciation Award KAC – 12th Annual National College Leadership Conference[citation needed]
August 11, 1992 Recognition of Service County of LA Supervisor Mike Antonovich[citation needed]
March 1, 1994 Achievement Award March First Women's Association USA[citation needed]
May 10, 1995 Appreciation 1st Annual Korean Culture Night KSA UC Riverside[citation needed]
July 28, 1996 Appreciation Radio Korea Los Angeles[citation needed]
December 14, 2000 Trailblazer Award KoreAm Journal[citation needed]
December 15, 2000 Appreciation March First Women's Association USA[citation needed]
May 24, 2001 Commendation of Service US Navy Assault Craft Unit 5 Camp Pendleton[citation needed]
May 24, 2003 Woman of the Year California State Assembly from Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas[19]
March 24, 2003 Congratulations Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger[citation needed]
March 24, 2003 Congratulations Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamonte[citation needed]
March 24, 2003 Commendation Service to Korean American Community from University of Southern California[citation needed]
August 8, 2003 Commendation The Los Angeles City Council[citation needed]
September 11, 2003 Recognition of Service State Senator Richard Alarcon[citation needed]
December 10, 2003 Korean American Pioneer California State Board of Equalization from John Chiang[citation needed]
November 18, 2004 3 Dosan Post Office City of Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn[citation needed]
November 18, 2004 Congratulatory Certificate LA County Supervisor Yvonne Burke[citation needed]
November 18, 2004 Congratulatory Certificate Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger[citation needed]
January 16, 2005 Birthday greetings City of LA – home delivered by Tom La Bonge[citation needed]
October 5, 2006 American Courage Award Asian American Justice Center, Washington, DC[19]
November 2, 2006 Recognition of Service President 1995–2001 from March First Women's Association USA[citation needed]
November 17, 2007 Pioneer Award Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of California[citation needed]
August 12, 2007 Appreciation Chairperson Korean Independence Day Concert from City of Irvine[citation needed]
January 19, 2008 Pioneer Korean Award Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger[citation needed]
November 7, 2008 Appreciation Hung Sa Dan[citation needed]
November 11, 2008 Recognition of Service City of Malibu Veteran's Day Ceremony from County of LA Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky[citation needed]
January 16, 2009 Birthday Greetings County of La Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas[citation needed]
May 1, 2009 Leadership Award Southern California Edison 4th Annual APA Heritage Month Celebration[citation needed]
May 1, 2009 Recognition of Service California State Senate Gloria Romero[citation needed]
May 1, 2009 Recognition of Service California State Senate Carol Liu[citation needed]
May 1, 2009 Recognition of Service California State Controller John Chiang[citation needed]
January 16, 2010 Recognition of 95th Birthday US Navy[citation needed]
January 16, 2011 Recognition of 95th Birthday LA County Board of Supervisors[citation needed]
January 16, 2012 Recognition of 95th Birthday Republic of Korea[citation needed]
August 15, 2013 Veteran of the Game Los Angeles Dodgers[citation needed]
January 16, 2014 Korean 100th Birthday Republic of Korea[citation needed]
January 16, 2014 Korean 100th Birthday LA County Board of Supervisors[citation needed]
February 14, 2015 Recognition of Patriotism Dosan Memorial Foundation of Korea[citation needed]
January 16, 2015 Recognition of 100th Birthday LA County Board of Supervisors[citation needed]
March 10, 2015 Susan Ahn Cuddy Day LA County Board of Supervisors[20]
April 10, 2015 Recognition of Patriotism Soengnam City Mayor Yi Jae Yong[citation needed]
May 9, 2015 Recognition of Navy Service US Navy Seabee Museum Port Hueneme[citation needed]
May 29, 2015 Recognition of Navy Service US Navy Fleet Readiness Center Point Mugu[citation needed]
June 6, 2015 Recognition of Leadership The Los Angeles City Council[citation needed]
June 6, 2015 Recognition of Contribution American Cancer Society Relay for Life[citation needed]


  1. ^ Ha, Julia (2009). "Defining Herself". KoreAm (February 2009).
  2. ^ a b c "Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Features Notable Asian Americans". Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs. District of Columbia. 15 May 2009. Retrieved 22 November 2009.
  3. ^ a b Keely Damara. "First Asian American woman Navy officer honored in 'Born to Lead'". PCC Courier. Archived from the original on 2015-04-12. Retrieved 2015-04-12.
  4. ^ a b Lange, Katie (30 April 2021). "Navy Lt. Susan Ahn Cuddy Carved the Path for Asian American Women". U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.
  5. ^ "Ahn Family House > Korean Studies Institute > USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences".
  6. ^ Young Korean Academy (Hung Sa Dan)
  7. ^ a b c d e "'Living Legend' Susan Ahn Cuddy Passes Away at 100".
  8. ^ Gandhi, Lakshmi. "The Asian American Women Who Fought to Make Their Mark in WWII". HISTORY.
  9. ^ Daniels, Paula (1996), Susan Ahn Cuddy Oral Histories, retrieved 2019-04-19
  10. ^ a b Kim, Sung (6 May 2020). "Susan Ahn Cuddy: Asian American Trailblazer". Los Angeles Public Library Blog.
  11. ^ "'Living Legend' Susan Ahn Cuddy Passes Away at 100".
  12. ^ "Susan Ahn Cuddy". Retrieved 2008-03-12.
  13. ^ a b c "Mother Didn't Speak to Me for Five Years…". Audrey Magazine. May 2005. Archived from the original on 2008-01-14. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
  14. ^ Chief Petty Officer Francis X. "Frank" Cuddy
  15. ^ "First female Asian officer speaks about her naval service". Navy Life. United States Navy. May 20, 2015.
  16. ^ "Past Awardees". Retrieved 2019-04-19.
  17. ^ 도산 안창호 선생 장녀 안수산 美 자택서 별세 (in Korean)
  18. ^ "Interview with Philip Ahn Cuddy". 26 April 2012.
  19. ^ a b "Susan Ahn Cuddy, Lieutenant, U.S. Navy". Foundation for Women Warriors. 30 March 2020.
  20. ^ Lee, Suevon (March 11, 2015). "Los Angeles County Declares 'Susan Ahn Cuddy Day'". Character Media. Retrieved May 9, 2021.


External links[edit]