#AAPIHM17: Not only was Susan Ahn Cuddy the first Asian American woman to join the Navy, she was the first female aerial gunnery officer. 

Image: PORT HUENEME, Calif. (May 9, 2015) Susan Ahn Cuddy, a former Navy lieutenant, meets with U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Education Specialist Hanako Wakatsuki after a guest presentation honoring Ahn Cuddy at the Seabee Museum. The presentation was part of the museum’s Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month program. Ahn Cuddy was the first Asian American woman to serve in the armed forces when she joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) during WWII. (U.S. Navy photo by Aramis X. Ramirez/Released)

Susan Anh Cuddy was born in  Los Angeles in 1915 to Dosan Chang Ho and Helen Anh, who were possibly the first Korean married couple to immigrate to the U.S. Susan graduated from San Diego State in 1940.  Two years later, she was the first Asian American woman to join the U.S. Navy where she achieved the rank of lieutenant. Susan was the first female gunnery officer in the U.S. military and later she served with the National Security Agency as a code breaker with top secret Pentagon clearance.

In 2003, Susan was recognized by the California State Assembly as Woman of the Year for her public service. In addition, she received the American Courage Award from the Asian American Justice Center of Washington, D.C. in 2006.

Photo (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

RIP Susan Ahn Cuddy


In her final weeks, Susan Ahn Cuddy kept her calendar full, as always — she attended fundraisers, participated in U.S. military events and even led a “survivor’s lap” at an American Cancer Society Relay for Life, pushed around the running track in her wheelchair.

The day after speaking at a leadership summer camp in Wrightwood for Korean American youth, where she encouraged attendees to aim high and be the best they could be, she died in her sleep at her home in Northridge. She was 100. There was no cause immediately given for her June 24 death.

“She was completely active until the day she died,” said her daughter Christine Cuddy, 65, an entertainment attorney. “She was a force of nature.

It is a descriptor that characterizes the life of the petite Korean American, who succeeded in breaking down barriers at a time when America was rife with discrimination and racial inequities.

She is believed to be the first Asian American female U.S. Navy officer and became the Navy’s first female gunnery officer during World War II, according to her official 2002 biography, “Willow Tree Shade: The Susan Ahn Cuddy Story,” written by John Cha. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, she later went on to work for U.S. Navy Intelligence, the Library of Congress and the National Security Agency.

She was one of the nation’s oldest living Korean Americans born in the U.S. and her parents were among the first Koreans to immigrate to the United States, arriving in 1902.

“She was a trailblazer, a go-getter, a challenger of anything and everything,” said her son Philip, 59, who works in the medical research field.

Born Jan. 16, 1915, in Los Angeles, Cuddy was the elder daughter of Helen Lee and Dosan Ahn Chang Ho. Her father was a revered Korean independence leader. The couple had five children.

“I think my personal life [was] guided by my father,” Cuddy said in an April 2015 interview with The Times. “He was always in Shanghai or China working for the independence of Korea.”

But when he came home “he gave us time,” she said.

Her father was also exceptionally “liberal” by Korean standards, allowing his daughters to be “rough … not ladylike.”

“We grew up under a sense of freedom,” she said.

Cuddy also helped to promote civic engagement among Korean Americans and build bridges between communities, work that impressed L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who became friends with Cuddy.“Susan never forgot her father’s struggle and sacrifice for independence, and so it was in her nature to be open and sympathetic to all who struggled to gain their rights and acceptance,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Cuddy, whose husband died in 1994, is survived by her children Christine and Philip, siblings Soorah Buffum and Ralph Ahn, and grandchildren Michael and Julia Gittes.