Susan Ahn Cuddy

Susan Ahn Cuddy was the first female gunnery officer in the United States Navy and the first Korean American to work in U.S. Naval Intelligence.

Born in Los Angeles, Susan Ahn’s parents were the first Korean married couple to immigrate to the United States. Her father, Ahn Changho, was a prolific activist for Korean independence. Growing up, Susan Ahn worked for several Korean Independence organizations in Los Angeles.

Her father eventually returned to Korea for more direct activism. Three years before Pearl Harbor, he died in Korea after being imprisoned by the Japanese. Two of her brothers signed up for the Army and Navy once the United States entered the war. The first time Susan Ahn tried to sign up for the Women’s Naval Reserve, she was rejected because of her race. Unintimidated, she applied again, and was accepted. Susan Ahn trained Navy pilots in dogfighting tactics and firing .50 caliber machine guns. 

After World War 2, Susan Ahn married Francis Cuddy, an Irish American codebreaker. They lived in Virginia, but had to be wed in the District of Columbia, because surrounding states still had laws against interracial marriage. Francis and Susan both worked on top secret projects for the National Security Agency until 1959, when they moved close to Susan’s family in Los Angeles to settle down and raise their children. “The best way to get your relatives to accept your mixed race marriage is to have kids,” she later remarked.

Susan Ahn Cuddy remained active later in life, helping manage her family’s Korean restaurant until 1990. In 2006, she received the American Courage Award from the Asian American Justice Center.