The Cunningham was a 376 foot, 6 inch long destroyer which displaced 2,200 tons. She carried a crew of 336 and had a top speed of 34 knots. The ship’s armament included six 5-inch guns, 12 40mm antiaircraft guns, 11 20mm antiaircraft guns, 10 torpedo tubes and six depth charge launchers.
Action in World War II
The Cunningham, commissioned in November 1944, began its service life as a training ship, helping new destroyer crews learn the ropes. In June 1945, the Cunningham saw its first action as an aircraft carrier escort during attacks on Wake Island, occupied by the Japanese.
At the end of June, the Cunningham began radar picket duty off the island of Okinawa, remaining in that area until the Japanese surrender in August. With the war won, the Cunningham joined the reserve fleet in 1947.
Action in the Korean War
The invasion of South Korea by North Korean forces in 1950 prompted the recommissioning of the Cunningham and its deployment with a carrier task force near Korea in 1951. It was in this war that the Cunningham encountered its greatest peril. On Sept. 19, 1952, while on a shore bombardment mission during its second deployment to Korea, the ship came under heavy fire from a shore battery.
Three or more guns launched salvos at the ship, hitting it at least five times. Several crew members bravely heaved a burning depth charge overboard, sparing the warship further damage. A total of 13 crew members were injured in the incident. The vessel returned to service after emergency repairs.
After the war
In the years after the war, the Cunningham engaged in a variety of exercises and again acted as a training vessel. In 1964, the ship was featured in “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,’’ a Warner Brothers film.
Action in the Vietnam War
In October 1965, the Cunningham began patrolling the coast of North Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin, helping bombard Quang Ngai, South Vietnam. In 1967, the ship was back in the region, performing air-sea rescue duties for the USS Bennington. After an overhaul, the Cunningham returned to Vietnam in 1968, again performing search and rescue duty. The ship’s final mission to Vietnam came in late 1969, as she conducted shore bombardments.
After the war
The Cunningham was decommissioned on Feb. 24, 1971, and ultimately was sunk near California in weapons testing. The destroyer USS Alfred A. Cunningham earned a total of 14 battle stars for its service in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Asbestos in Navy ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially during World War II, naval destroyers also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.