Alfred Austell Cunningham, born on 8 March 1882 in Atlanta, Ga., enlisted in a volunteer infantry regiment during the Spanish-American War, and served a tour of occupation duty in Cuba. He spent the next decade selling real estate in Atlanta, and during this time evinced an interest in aeronautics, making a balloon ascent in 1903.
Commissioned a 2d lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 25 January 1909, Cunningham served in the Marine guards of New Jersey (Battleship No. 16) and North Dakota (Battleship No. 29), and the receiving ship Lancaster, over the next two years. Promoted to 1st lieutenant in September 1911, Cunningham received orders to the Advanced Base School, at the Marine Barracks, Philadelphia, that November. Having retained an interest in aeronautics, he found at Philadelphia a likewise avid group of civilians and off-duty military men who harbored an interest in the same thing. He rented an airplane and gained permission from the commandant of the navy yard to use an open field at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for test flights. He also joined the Aero Club of Philadelphia, and commenced "selling" Marine Corps aviation to members of the Aero Club, who, through their Washington connections, began to pressure a number of officials, including Major General Commandant William P. Biddle, himself a member of a prominent Philadelphia family.
On 16 May 1912, Cunningham received orders detaching him from the Marine Barracks, and ordering him to the Naval Academy, and its nearby aviation camp. He reported six days later, on 22 May 1912. Expeditionary duty, however, intervened, and by the time the young lieutenant returned to Annapolis, there were no planes available to fly. Possessing boundless enthusiasm, Cunningham got orders to the Burgess Co., and Curtiss factory at Marblehead, Mass.; there, following two hours and 40 minutes of instruction, he soloed on 20 August 1912.
Between October 1912 and July 1913, Cunningham made some 400 flights in the Curtiss B-l, conducting training and testing tactics and aircraft capabilities. In August 1913, Cunningham sought detachment from aviation duty, on the grounds that his fiancee would not marry him unless he gave up flying. Although assigned duty as assistant quartermaster at the Marine Barracks at the Washington Navy Yard, the first Marine aviator continued to advocate Marine Corps aviation and contribute significantly to its growth. In November 1913, he served on a board, headed by Capt. Washington I. Chambers, USN, tasked with drawing up a comprehensive plan for the organization of a naval aeronautical service. It was upon the recommendation of thatboard that the Naval Aeronautical Station at Pensacola, Fla., was established in 1914.
The following February, Cunningham was assigned duty at the Washington Navy Yard, assisting Naval Constructor Holden C. Richardson in working on the D-2 flying boat. Ordered to Pensacola for instruction in April 1915 (his wife apparently having relented in allowing her husband to fly), Cunningham was designated Naval Aviator No. 5 on 17 September 1915.
After heading the motor erecting shop at Pensacola, he underwent instruction at the Army Signal Corps Aviation School at San Diego, whence he was assigned to the Commission on Navy Yards and Naval Stations. Cunningham received orders on 26 February 1917, to organize the Aviation Company for the Advanced Base Force, at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Designated as the commander of this unit, Cunningham soon emerged as de facto director of Marine Corps aviation. He sought, and got, enthusiastic volunteers to become pilots, and soon embarked on a determined campaign to define a mission for land-based marine air. In addition, he served on a joint Army-Navy board that selected sites for naval air stations in seven naval districts and on the east and gulf coasts.
Detailed to Europe to obtain information on British and French aviation practices, he participated in a variety of missions over German lines. Returning to the United States in January 1918, he presented a plan to use marine aircraft to operate against submarines off the Belgian coast and against submarine bases at Zeebrugge, Ostend, and Bruges.
The Northern Bombing Group emerged from these plans-four landplane squadrons equipped and trained in five months' time. On 12 July 1918, 72 planes, 176 officers and 1,030 enlisted men sailed for France on board the transport DeKalb, arriving at Brest on 30 July 1918. The marines were sent to the fields at Oye, Le Fresne, and St. Pol, France; and at Hoondschoote, Ghietelles, Varsennaire and Knesselaere, Belgium. Despite shortages of planes, spare parts, and tools, the Marines participated in 43 raids with British and French units, as well as 14 independent raids, and shot down eight enemy aircraft. Planes of the group also dropped 52,000 pounds of bombs, and supplied 2,650 pounds of food in five food-dropping missions to encircled French troops. For his service in organizing and training the first marine aviation force, Cunningham was awarded the Navy Cross.
After World War I, Cunningham returned to the United States to become officer-in-charge of Marine Corps aviation, a billet in which he remained until 26 December 1920, when he was detailed to command the First Air Squadron in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Ordered thence to general duty at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Major Cunningham then served as assistant adjutant and inspector, and then division marine officer and aide on the staff of Commander, Battleship Division 3. On temporary detached duty in Nicaragua from June 1928, he served with the 2d Brigade of Marines as executive officer of the Western Area at Leon, Nicaragua.
Subsequently, becoming executive officer and registrar of the Marine Corps Institute from 1929 to 1931, he finished up his career as assistant quartermaster at the Marine Barracks, Philadelphia. His health failing, Cunningham was retired on 1 August 1935; promoted to lieutenant colonel while on the retired list, he died at Sarasota, Fla., on 27 May 1939.
Alfred A. Cunningham (DD-752) was laid down on 23 February 1944 at Staten Island, N.Y., by the Bethlehem Steel Co.; launched on 3 August 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Alfred A. Cunningham, the widow of Lt. Col. Cunningham; and commissioned on 23 November 1944, Comdr. Floyd B. T. Myhre in command.
Following shakedown training out of Bermuda, Alfred A. Cunningham returned to New York on 17 January 1945 for post-shakedown availability. Proceeding to Norfolk soon thereafter, the destroyer spent the next three months operating in the Chesapeake Bay area as a training ship for prospective destroyer crews. Here the ship introduced hundreds of trainees to life on board a destroyer, engaging in gunnery exercises, damage control drills, and maneuvering practice.
Following a brief availability for repairs and alterations at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Alfred A. Cunningham got underway on 7 May, and rendezvoused with the new heavy cruiser Chicago (CA-136) off Brown Shoals, Delaware Bay, and proceeded with that ship to Chesapeake Bay for gunnery exercises. The two warships then steamed to Guantanamo Bay, thence to Panama, transiting the isthmian waterway on 18 May, and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 31 May. Over the next two weeks, Alfred A. Cunningham remained in Hawaiian waters, undergoing an availability alongside Black Hawk (AD-9) and carrying out training.
On 13 June, the destroyer joined Task Group (TG) 12.4 and sailed for the western Pacific. A week later, while en route, Alfred A. Cunningham screened carriers launching air strikes on Japanese-held Wake Island. The group arrived at Leyte on 26 June.
Alfred A. Cunningham got underway the following day for Okinawa, and while en route to her destination conducted a depth charge attack on what she evaluated as a "good" submarine contact, but with negative results. Shortly after arriving at Okinawa on 29 June, she served on radar picket duty off the island's southwest coast. From 1 July until the end of hostilities she served on patrol, escort, and screening duty in waters surrounding the Ryukyus. Following Japan's capitulation, Alfred A. Cunningham remained in the Far East, operating off the coast of China between the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea. She performed escort services and served on an antismuggling patrol between Korea and Japan. The destroyer returned to the United States on 28 March 1946, went into reserve at San Diego on 12 May 1947, and was decommissioned in August 1949.
During the build-up of the fleet in the wake of the North Korean invasion of South Korea in late June 1950, Alfred A. Cunningham was recommissioned on 5 October 1950, Comdr. L. P. Spear in command, and joined the Pacific Fleet. Following training exercises, the destroyer got underway for the western Pacific (WestPac) on 2 January 1951. Alfred A. Cunningham was involved in a variety of operations, principally serving with Task Force (TF) 77, the fast carrier task force, off the coast of Korea.
Early in this deployment, on 18 February 1951, the ship was released from her "Bird Dog" station (plane guard) with TF 77 to carry out a night shore bombardment mission on "targets of opportunity" near Tanchon, on the east coast of Korea. Alfred A. Cunningham arrived on station at 2130 and opened fire, conducting harassing and interdictory fire; her targets included railroad tracks, two grade crossings, a tunnel, and lights on the road leading south. After expending 90 rounds of 5-inch, the destroyer ceased fire at 0605 on the 19th.
Returning to San Diego on 4 September 1951, Alfred A. Cunningham again sailed for the Far East in March 1952. As before, she steamed with the fast carrier task force off Korea and performed shore bombardment missions. On 19 September, the destroyer was operating in Task Element 95.22 (the "Songjin Element") to prevent the movement of trains along the railroad at that point by preventing clearance of the roadbed and repair during the day, and destroying trains at night. Patrolling some 6,000 yards off the beach at about 1340, Alfred A. Cunningham fired on workers she had seen in that vicinity. A little over an hour later, detecting workmen at a tunnel, the destroyer stood in toward the shoreline, turning slowly to starboard to take a northeasterly course to fire on the workmen at the tunnel mouth.
At that point, at least three enemy guns opened fire on the ship. The first salvo was a direct hit, on the main deck, starboard side; several pieces of shrapnel penetrated the shield of mount 51 and wounded three of the mount's crew. Two air bursts followed in quick succession, one on either side of the bridge. Within two minutes time, the North Korean guns had registered four more direct hits and at least seven air bursts near the ship.
One shell penetrated into the forward fire room, destroying a forced-draft blower; shrapnel holed a nearby bulkhead. Another shell struck a depth charge on the forward K-gun, blowing the charge apart and scattering burning TNT as far aft as the fantail; shrapnel from this hit set another depth charge afire, and ruptured four others. The fourth hit on the starboard side, two feet below the main deck; shrapnel from this hit caused extensive damage to the motor whaleboat. The last shell to hit struck about two feet below the waterline, but did not penetrate. The air bursts near the bridge rendered the SG radar inoperative.
Immediately, one of the ship's 3-inch mounts opened up to return the shore battery's fire, expending both hoppers full (ten rounds); these rounds landed in the target area but did not slow the enemy's rate of fire.
With Alfred A. Cunningham, under fire, Lt. Frederick F. Palmer, USNR, the officer of the deck, sounded the general alarm, ordered the rudder shifted to left full, rang up the port engine back emergency full, starboard engine ahead flank, in order to come left and open the range.
Although mount 53 had reported a fire on the starboard K-guns, the blast from the guns of that mount and the nearby 3-inch mount, 34, prevented a repair party from approaching the blaze from that angle. Men from another damage control party got to the fire and battled the blaze, while as the ship sped to seaward, weaving but keeping at least one main battery mount bearing on the target guns at all times.
As the ship opened the range to 9,000 yards and worked up to 26.5 knots, Ens. Charles E. Dennis, USNR; Chief Torpedoman William J. Bohrman; and Electrian's Mate 2d Class Victor J. Leonard manhandled one burning depth charge over the side, performing this task at great personal risk while the fire on the K-guns was being brought under control. All three men were later recommended for the award of the Bronze Star.
Having suffered 13 men wounded, principally to shrapnel, Alfred A. Cunningham pulled out of range and stood down from general quarters, steering toward Yang Do Island to receive medical assistance from HMS Charity. After emergency repairs, Alfred A. Cunningham was able to continue her combat operations. Alfred A. Cunningham ultimately returned to the United States and reached her new home port, Long Beach, Calif., on 6 November.
Alfred A. Cunningham operated in the southern California area through the first five months of 1953 before getting underway on 13 June for another WestPac deployment. During her five months in the Far East, Alfred A. Cunningham operated twice with TF 77. The first of these periods saw her escorting the heavy cruiser Bremerton (CA-130). On 29 and 30 July 1953, Alfred A. Cunningham participated, with Bremerton and other United States Navy ships, in the search and rescue effort to recover the crew of a Boeing RB-50 that had crashed in the Sea of Japan. The searching ships managed to recover only the co-pilot.
The destroyer also participated in intensive antisubmarine (ASW) warfare exercises with TG 96.7 and joined in operations near Taiwan with other ships of Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 131. She returned to Long Beach on 20 December 1953.
A regular overhaul kept her at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard from February through April 1954. Then, after two months of training, Alfred A. Cunningham got underway for WestPac on 10 August. En route, she stopped at Pearl Harbor for gunnery and antisubmarine exercises and then continued on to Yokosuka, Japan. Alfred A. Cunningham joined TG 70.2 for maneuvers and division exercises and made two brief port visits to Manila. Next she operated with TF 72 as a part of a patrol in the Taiwan Strait. Alfred A. Cunningham then escorted Yorktown (CV-10) to Hong Kong and on to Manila, where she spent the holiday season.
Alfred A. Cunningham continued her work as planeguard for Yorktown into 1955, and returned to Long Beach on 6 February. After a leave and upkeep peiod, she resumed operations off the California coast. On 11 May, the destroyer took part in Operation "WigWam."
Following five months of preparation, Alfred A. Cunningham departed the west coast on 11 October, bound for Japan. She made fuel stops at Pearl Harbor and Midway en route to Yokosuka. Upon completion of voyage repairs, the destroyer joined TF 77 for three weeks of duty, broken once by a port call at Kobe, Japan. Alfred A. Cunningham spent the Christmas holidays at Yokosuka.
Antisubmarine exercises were her first assignment of 1956 before she proceeded, via Subic Bay, to join the Taiwan Strait patrol for a fortnight. Then the destroyer visited Hong Kong and stopped briefly in Yokosuka for repairs before sailing for home. After arriving at Long Beach on 31 March, she entered the San Francisco Naval Shipyard in May for an overhaul which was followed by two months of underway training out of San Diego. On 6 November, Alfred A. Cunningham got underway to escort Bremerton to Melbourne, Australia, where the ships participated in festivities surrounding the XVI Olympic Games. After 10 days in that port, the destroyer sailed for Yokosuka.
In January 1957, Alfred A. Cunningham took part in exercises near Chinhae, Korea, with ships of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy. She then joined TF 77 in the South China Sea for plane-guard duty. This work was followed by another stint with the Taiwan Strait patrol. Alfred A. Cunningham made stops at Subic Bay, Hong Kong, and Yokosuka before sailing for the United States.
She arrived at Long Beach on 12 May and devoted the next few months to air defense, hunter/killer operations, and shore bombardment exercises along the California coast. In December, the destroyer entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for an availability.
On 13 January 1958, Alfred A. Cunningham sailed for another Far East tour. Following stops at Pearl Harbor; Pago Pago, American Samoa; and Wellington, New Zealand, the destroyer arrived at Hobart, Tasmania, on 7 February. There, the members of her crew were graciously entertained by officials of the Royal Hobart Regatta.
On 12 February, Alfred A. Cunningham got underway for Guam, where she received two weeks of repair work. The destroyer then shifted to Yokosuka, arriving on 1 April. During the following months, the ship took part in numerous exercises, escorting and and screening Ticonderoga (CV-14) and other warships. During the cruise, she visited Hong Kong; Subic Bay; and Buckner Bay, Okinawa, before arriving back at Long Beach on 21 July. In early September, she entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for overhaul. She left drydock in early December and spent the holidays in leave and upkeep.
The destroyer held refresher training during the first three months of 1959, departed Long Beach on 28 March, and steamed to Yokosuka. On 15 April, she left that port in company with Shangri-La (CVA-38) to take part in Exercise "Sea Turtle," off the coast of Korea.
Late in May, Alfred A. Cunningham assisted in Exercise "Granite Creek." After a visit to Hong Kong, she returned to Yokosuka for an availability to prepare for the voyage home where she arrived on 27 August. The ship spent the rest of the year participating in gunnery exercises, ASW exercises, and acting as a school ship for Fleet Training Group, Pacific.
In January 1960, Alfred A. Cunningham, took part in STRIKEX 30-60. On 1 February, she became a unit of DesDiv 132 and was assigned to TG 14.7, a hunter/killer group. From 1 February to 7 May, the destroyer trained with that unit in the eastern Pacific.
Leaving Long Beach on 17 May with Destroyer Squadron 13 and Hornet (CVS-12), Alfred A. Cunningham proceeded to Pearl Harbor where she arrived on 23 May. The force remained in Hawaiian waters conducting ASW exercises until their departure on 5 July. The destroyer reached Kobe, Japan, on 16 July and began an upkeep period. She next sailed for ASW operations in the area off Okinawa, conducting these until 29 August, when the ship entered Subic Bay. Except for two brief visits to Hong Kong, she remained in the Subic Bay area until 3 December, when she sailed for Yokosuka. After a brief upkeep period, the ship left on a return voyage to the west coast, arriving at Long Beach on 18 December.
In late January 1961, the ship entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for a fleet rehabilitation and modernization (FRAM) overhaul. She held sea trials in July and August and resumed operations on 22 September. On 9 October, she sailed for Seattle. The ship conducted sound trials in Puget Sound from 12 to 20 October and then returned to Long Beach, whence she held refresher training in San Diego waters with the fleet training group from 30 October through 8 December.
Throughout the first five months of 1962, Alfred A. Cunningham alternated periods at sea with upkeep in her home port. On 7 June, she departed the west coast for a six-month WestPac cruise. Upon her arrival at Pearl Harbor on 13 June, the destroyer conducted ASW operations off Oahu before proceeding on to Yokosuka. In August, the destroyer took part in combined operations with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and made port calls at Kure, Kobe, and Sasebo, before returning to Yokosuka on 31 October. She got underway again on 3 November for patrol duty in the Strait of Tsushima and, after completing this task on 14 November, sailed via Hong Kong to Subic Bay. On 2 December the ship participated in a weapons demonstration, then began her voyage back to the United States, arriving at Long Beach on 21 December.
The destroyer spent the first three months of 1963 in local operations. On 1 April, she became a part of DesDiv 232 and spent April and May in availability at San Diego. Putting to sea in early June, she began a series of intensive ASW training exercises. In August, Alfred A. Cunningham sailed north with Carrier Division 19 on a goodwill and training cruise to Seattle, and the Alaskan ports of Skagway and Dutch Harbor. After a month back at Long Beach, the destroyer got underway for Pearl Harbor and several weeks of ASW operations. She returned to Long Beach in December for leave and upkeep.
On 20 February 1964, the ship left Long Beach in company with the other ships of DesDiv 232 for a six-month WestPac tour. Reaching Pearl Harbor on 28 February, Alfred A. Cunningham operated locally until sailing for the Far East on 23 March. Soon after leaving Hawaii, the destroyer took part in Operation "Crazy Horse," off the coast of Okinawa. On 7 April, the ship began a week of upkeep in Yokosuka. Other ports of call during this deployment included Kure, Sasebo, and Hong Kong. From 9 June to 4 July, the ship operated out of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on the Taiwan Strait patrol. Alfred A. Cunningham. then steamed to the Sea of Japan for Operation "Crossed Tee," a joint operation with ships of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. Then, following stops at Hakodate and Yokosuka, Japan, the destroyer arrived back in Long Beach on 11 August for leave, upkeep, and local operations. On 15 November, she entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for an overhaul.
Upon completion of this renewal effort on 15 March 1965, the ship departed Long Beach for seven weeks of refresher training in San Diego waters. Early in June, she embarked 30 midshipmen for a two-week training cruise in the Puget Sound area. On 12 August, Alfred A. Cunningham got underway for her 13th WestPac cruise. The ship stopped at Pearl Harbor for a two-week ASW operation held southwest of Molokai. A fortnight's upkeep at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard ensued before the destroyer continued on to Yokosuka.
In October, Alfred A. Cunningham joined TF 77 for patrol and surveillance duties off the coast of North Vietnam and in the Gulf of Tonkin. Following a week of recreation in Hong Kong, the destroyer got underway on 10 November to steam to Kaohsiung, and operated out of that port on patrol in the Taiwan Strait. On 5 December, she proceeded through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan for a joint ASW exercise with ships of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy before returning to Sasebo for the Christmas holidays.
In January 1966, Alfred A. Cunningham again patrolled off the Vietnamese coast and provided naval gunfire support in the area of Quang Ngai, South Vietnam. The final weeks of her patrol were spent on radar picket station south of Hainan Island. After a brief respite at Yokosuka, the ship sailed back to the United States, reaching Long Beach on 3 March.
For the next seven months, she held numerous training operations and availability periods but was underway west again on 4 November, bound for Oahu on the first leg of her deployment. Once in Hawaiian waters, the destroyer held exercises with combined American and Canadian forces and then continued on to Yokosuka for a brief upkeep period before sailing to the Taiwan Strait for patrol duty.
Alfred A. Cunningham proceeded to the Gulf of Tonkin early in January 1967 to serve as a planeguard for Bennington (CVS-20) to assist in recovering downed aviators. In February, the ship was assigned to Operation "Sea Dragon," a logistics interdiction effort in the coastal waters of North Vietnam, and continued this duty into April. Another stint of service in the Taiwan Strait followed, lasting from 6 to 12 April. On the 28th of that month, the destroyer sailed for home where she spent one and a half months preparing for an overhaul. She entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard on 14 July and underwent extensive repairs and alterations. Upon completion of the yard work in November, Alfred A. Cunningham spent a month in independent steaming and undergoing tender availability.
The destroyer began 1968 with refresher training in San Diego and then was deployed once more to southeast Asian waters. She repeated her former pattern of planeguard and search and rescue operations off the Vietnamese coast. On 23 October, the ship set course for home, made fueling stops at Midway and Pearl Harbor, and arrived back in Long Beach on 9 November.
On 2 January 1969, Alfred A. Cunningham took part in Operation "Quickstart," and pfaneguarded for Oriskany (CVA-34). The destroyer maintained a full schedule of exercises and availability periods until 1 July, when a shaft bearing casualty caused her to enter the Todd Shipyard at San Pedro, Calif., for repairs.
Emerging from drydock on 6 September, Alfred A. Cunningham began an intensive one-month period of preparations for deployment. The destroyer left Long Beach in early October and sailed to Pearl Harbor for refueling; she then conducted port calls at Yokosuka, Buckner Bay, and Subic Bay. On 14 November, the destroyer stood out of Subic Bay for duty off Vietnam. From 19 November until 4 December, she supported forces ashore with fire from her 5-inch guns. On 5 December, she joined Hancock (CV-19) on "Yankee Station" and remained there until the 20th when she headed for Sasebo for the holidays.
Alfred A. Cunningham began the year of 1970 with ASW and flight operations in Okinawan waters which were followed by a five-day visit to Hong Kong. On 17 January, she sailed to join Constellation (CVA-64) on "Yankee Station" and remained on this assignment until 21 February when the ship paid a brief visit to Kaohsiung. The destroyer sailed on 21 March to return to Long Beach. Upon her arrival on 9 April, she began a leave and upkeep period and then resumed operations in the southern California area in May. She spent the early summer months in training exercises and a midshipman training cruise. On 7 August, slated for inactivation, Alfred A. Cunningham unloaded all her ammunition at Seal Beach, Calif.
Decommissioned on 24 February 1971, Alfred A. Cunningham was placed in reserve. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 February 1974. Utilized as a target for weapons tests off the coast of southern California, she was sunk after being hit with five laser-guided bombs on 12 October 1979.
Alfred A. Cunningham earned one battle star for World War II service, six battle stars for Korean action, and seven battle stars for Vietnam service.