A Family Affair

Susan Ahn Cuddy’s two brothers, Phillip and Ralph, also joined the military.

I was Korean blood.  We were fighting the Japanese. I was American. I was very American, raised to love and honor America. There was actually no choice. I mean that was it. Why other women didn’t do it, I don’t know.

This is a photograph of Ahn and her brothers in uniform. It comes from the collection of Susan Ahn Cuddy and the Island Mountain Trading Co.

Naval Security

After Susan Ahn Cuddy graduated from Smith College officer training school, she was sent to work in Naval intelligence after Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal saw her at an event. But initially the brass in Naval intelligence weren’t so certain about having an Asian woman in their midst.

The captain of the station was appalled. He couldn’t believe that this Asian was on his station So for six months I didn’t do anything, but file.  And then after that, he was still nervous.

Ahn eventually became the Navy liaison with the Library of Congress, and after the war would continue working in the intelligence community, in the National Security Agency.

This photograph of Ahn and an unnamed sailor comes from the collection of Susan Ahn Cuddy and the Island Mountain Trading Co.

The First Korean-American WAVE Officer

Susan Ahn Cuddy would go on to many Navy firsts. She became the first Korean American gunnery instructor in 1943. She was the first Korean American WAVE officer, selected to train at Smith College. After officer training she would go on to work in Naval Intelligence.

This image comes from the University of Northern Iowa Archives. It is from the base newspaper, The Iowave, telling of Ahn’s promotion to WAVE officer.

In Training

Susan Ahn Cuddy would be sent to Cedar Falls, Iowa for her training as a WAVE.

You stand out like a sore thumb for one thing ,and so you have to behave properly. But, everyone was very cordial to me and accepting and I don’t think I faced any uh, problems except that many of them didn’t see an Asian before in the Midwest like in Iowa.

After her initial training, Ahn became one of the first women selected at a Link Trainer Instructor.

This photograph comes from the collection of Susan Ahn Cuddy and the Island Mountain Trading Co.

The First Korean American WAVE

Education was important to the Ahn family. Susan Ahn Cuddy attended college in Southern California, and would be both a good student and an active athlete.

But even though she met the qualifications: a college graduate with some work experience, she was turned down by the recruiting officer when she first attempted to enlist as a WAVE officer in 1942.

As she said:

When the Navy program opened up for the women, I was gung-ho.  I was in San Diego and I came up to Los Angeles and tried to be part of it, but it was an officer’s training group and I didn’t make it. Well, I mean it was known that it was because I was Asian and not acceptable.

A woman who knew Ahn intervened, and she was later accepted as an enlisted WAVE.

This photograph is of Susan Ahn’s college field hockey team: she is in the front row, fourth from left.  It comes from the collection of Susan Ahn Cuddy and the Island Mountain Trading Co.


The reality was that Dorothy Turnbull, and most of the WAVES, spent little or no time about ships. The rumor was that it was unlucky for women to be aboard ships, and Navy policy prohibited women other than the Navy Nurse Corps from serving aboard a ship.

However, the women did do goodwill tours to visit various ships in port, as in this photograph from the Dorothy Turnbull Stewart collection.


“A Little Risqué”

Dorothy Turnbull wasn’t above using sex appeal to sell the WAVES – as long as it was wholesome sex appeal.

You see, well, they were showing the audience that we had that had gotten together. They were were showing how the women in the Navy were still women. And ladies. That was the whole thing was to let society know that our girls were their girls. They were mothers, perhaps — well, not mothers. They were daughters and sisters. This was one method of getting something a little risqué — bathing suits.

This photograph of a WAVES recruitment event in Galveston comes from the collection of Dorothy Turnbull Stewart.

A New Orleans Touch

When women got to the recruiting events, Dorothy Turnbull used creative methods to get the women excited about their new jobs in the Navy.

In this photograph, women are pulling charms from a Mardi Gras-style “King Cake.” The charms are of the various jobs the women could hold in the Navy, from yeoman to pharmacist’s mate, gunnery instructor to aerographer and everything in between.

It comes from the collection of Dorothy Turnbull Stewart.

The YWCA Brochure

Dorothy Turnbull worked several cities in Southern Texas, including Beaumont, where she coordinated with the local YWCA to host events for recruits.

These ar two of my recruits.  Women who came in to be tested, see, they’d come from these little towns down to Beaumont. They’d come from Port Arthur, Orange. We’d arrange for them to take the tests with me there.  Bring the doctors over, or they’d come over to Houston to take the physical.  They’d do everything before the physical in Beaumont area. Then in Houston, they’d come over and if they passed the physical they could be sworn in right then.

This brochure comes from the collection of Dorothy Turnbull Stewart.