StoryCorps: Their 'Tough' Mom Was Also The Navy's 1st Asian American Woman Susan Ahn Cuddy didn't fit the 1950s housewife mold. For one, she was an expert in air combat tactics. It wasn't until after her death in 2015 that her kids understood the full extent of her legacy.
NPR logo

Their 'Tough' Mom Was Also The Navy's 1st Asian American Woman Officer

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/751418920/751986905" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Their 'Tough' Mom Was Also The Navy's 1st Asian American Woman Officer

Their 'Tough' Mom Was Also The Navy's 1st Asian American Woman Officer

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/751418920/751986905" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We'll now hear from the StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, one of the thousands of conversations with veterans and their families that's recorded all across the country. Today, one seriously tough veteran Susan Ahn Cuddy, a Navy gunnery officer who served in World War II. Her children, Flip and Christine Cuddy, came to StoryCorps to remember her.

FLIP CUDDY: Mom basically was a trained killer. She's a much different parent than...

CHRISTINE CUDDY: (Laughter).

F CUDDY: ...You know, someone who owned a bakery.

C CUDDY: As a mother, she was really unusual. She'd been through so much. Teaching guys how to shoot is like, what do you need to teach a kid? You know, go out and play.

F CUDDY: Yeah. She had, like, her own code. And if somebody was really an idiot, you know, she would say they were limited.

C CUDDY: That was one of her most heavy-duty criticisms.

F CUDDY: Yeah.

C CUDDY: She was tough.

F CUDDY: Tough. As soon as they bombed Pearl Harbor, she signed up to join the Navy. She was qualified to go to officer training school. But because she was Asian, they wouldn't accept her. Mom said she didn't care. She enlisted anyway.

C CUDDY: Right.

F CUDDY: And, you know, then they accepted her. You know, it was a white world. And if you wanted to do anything, you just had to forge ahead. So she was the very first woman gunnery officer teaching air combat tactics. These ace pilots would have to come back for refresher courses.

C CUDDY: Well, she loved to tell the stories about when she would talk to these guys. I mean, she was a 5-foot-1 little Asian woman.

F CUDDY: There was one incident when this guy comes in, and mom gives him the training. And, you know, she talks about when you're going to start shooting. So this guy goes, I'm not shooting until I see the whites of those Japs' eyes. She said I don't care what you do up there, but when you're down here with me, you do what I tell you to do.

C CUDDY: Yeah.

F CUDDY: How do you want people to remember mom?

C CUDDY: Obviously, you know, when you're growing up, it's just your mom. But I remember after she died reading her biography and just thinking, my God.

F CUDDY: I mean, how do you describe a person like that who's a leader and successful at everything she does?

C CUDDY: But I think I also would just say to mom, what an incredible life you've lived.

F CUDDY: I'm lucky I had a mom like that.

C CUDDY: Yeah, me too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Christine and Flip Cuddy remembering their mother, Susan Ahn Cuddy, at StoryCorps in Los Angeles last year. After she served as a gunnery officer, Lieutenant Ahn Cuddy worked for Navy intelligence and the National Security Agency at the height of the Cold War, where she gathered intel on the Soviet government. She retired from public service to help run the family business, the legendary LA restaurant Phil Ahn's Moongate. She died in 2015 at the age of 100. This interview will be archived, along with hundreds of thousands of others, at the U.S. Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.