William H. Cunningham Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
William H. Cunningham

Native Kansas Citian and was a naval officer during World War II. Served as fire control superintendent of the U.S.S. Missouri. Present at the launching (Jan. 29, 1944) and the commissioning (June 11, 1944) of the Missouri and was at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.

Independence, Missouri
April 18, 1980
by Niel M. Johnson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened May, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

Oral History Interview with
William H. Cunningham

Independence, Missouri
April 18, 1980
by Niel M. Johnson


JOHNSON: Mr. Cunningham, I think we'll start, as I mentioned earlier, with some background information. Do you want to tell us where and when you were born and where you were raised?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I was born in Kansas City in 1911, on Gillham Road south of Westport High School. I went to the University of Kansas, took an engineering degree; and went with General Electric Company in 1933. And while there I spent a few months working on some of the gunfire directors for the Tuscaloosa, an old antique cruiser that was used in the Battle of the North Atlantic for a little


while. And I went into x-ray work for G.E. and became an x-ray specialist. In 1942 I joined the Navy thinking that I would be able to do x-ray work on mines, which were giving the Navy a lot of trouble at the time, and after nine months delay was sent to Fort Schuyler for normal ordnance training.

Well, the Navy, as they usually do in their assignments, looked up the fact that I had worked on fire control equipment some ten years before and decided I was better needed in the Brooklyn Navy yard, although the equipment that I had worked on was absolutely obsolete at the time, and they even skipped my training in fire control school and everything else. So I literally had to learn on the job without anybody knowing it for a while. I was assigned as a fire control ship superintendent, supervising the repair and installation of anti-aircraft equipment and computers.

JOHNSON: On the Missouri?


CUNNINGHAM: No, on destroyers, cruisers, anything that came into the yard. And even some foreign ships, Phoebe, the Ajax, English cruisers, and the Gloire a French cruiser, for instance, and destroyers as I said. But when the Missouri was launched I was assigned as fire control superintendent on that, and that became my permanent assignment from then until the time the ship left.

JOHNSON: If we can back up just a little bit at this point, you mentioned growing up here in Kansas City.

CUNNINGHAM: That's right.

JOHNSON: And getting your education here?

CUNNINGHAM: The University of Kansas.

JOHNSON: The University of Kansas. You had a bachelor's in...

CUNNINGHAM: Industrial engineering.


JOHNSON: So, with a bachelor's in industrial. engineering, how did you get into the military?

CUNNINGHAM: I went to work for General Electric; they do not care whether you're industrial, mechanical, or electrical. At least at that time, they had very little interest in which it was, that you had to be trained over again anyway. And I got into x-ray work which was very little to do with industrial work when you get right down to it.

JOHNSON: With General Electric?

CUNNINGHAM: With General Electric. And I joined the Navy; I was in Oklahoma City at the time.

JOHNSON: When was that?


JOHNSON: So you were working with General Electric at the time. This was before Pearl Harbor?

CUNNINGHAM: No, after Pearl Harbor, in '42. Everybody did; all my friends did.


As a matter of fact, I went back with General Electric and retired five years ago, early, after 37 years.

JOHNSON: Did I get the date you were born?

CUNNINGHAM: June 28, 1911. I'm a lot older than you are.

JOHNSON: You were 30 years old then when you joined the Navy.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, but they were drafting an awful lot of people in Oklahoma. If you remember Oklahoma had one of the highest ratios of Navy enlistees in the United States. For some reason, the drier the state, the more they are attracted to the ocean.

JOHNSON: And you were in Oklahoma working for General Electric at the time?

CUNNINGHAM: That's right, Oklahoma City; traveling over the state.


JOHNSON: So, you didn't live in Kansas City after you graduated from college?

CUNNINGHAM: No. As a matter of fact, I've only been back three or four times, My parents died here years ago.

JOHNSON: When was the first time you became aware of Senator Truman, or of Mr. Truman?

CUNNINGHAM: I first saw Truman during the period '26-'33. At that time the Muehlebach Hotel was the meeting place for all the high school and college students in Kansas City -- and the Grill was the only location for some of the best bands in the country. It was also the meeting place for most of the politicians of the country.

JOHNSON: But your father was acquainted with Mr. Truman?

CUNNINGHAM: He had a speaking acquaintance but I imagine half the county could make the same claim. After the depression my father worked for the grain outfit under Wallace who was his father-in-law, I guess.


JOHNSON: Oh, your father worked for the grain exchange, the futures market?

CUNNINGHAM: He worked for two of the Board of Trade companies, and then went to work for the Government sometime about '34-'36.

JOHNSON: What was his first name?

CUNNINGHAM: Allan, Allan Cunningham.

JOHNSON: You know, Mr. Truman's father speculated in grain and then lost his money in the market.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, my father worked for the Government. He was one of these men that blended the wheat from various elevators to make up a shipload of a certain grade of wheat. I don't know the technical term for it.

JOHNSON: Did he happen to know Mr. Truman's father?


JOHNSON: You knew Mr. Truman by reputation before he...


CUNNINGHAM: Oh, by reputation, of course. I didn't know him that personally, but by reputation, fine.

JOHNSON: You didn't see him or meet him until when?

CUNNINGHAM: I met him in the Navy yard. I was introduced to him.

JOHNSON: That was the first time you met him?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, that was the first time I was introduced. I'd see him outside going into the store, but that doesn't count.

JOHNSON: Do you recall when he was a judge, presiding judge?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, indeed I do.

JOHNSON: And what was his reputation then?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, his reputation was fine, because I helped fight Pendergast when I was in the University of Kansas. A lot of my friends were hurt in '32 in trying to fight them. I had gone back to


Schenectady, so I wasn't involved.

JOHNSON: Some of your friends were involved in politics, local politics?

CUNNINGHAM: They were all involved in politics. There was quite a young sprouting movement among a lot of the young folks to fight Pendergast at that time. But Truman was never at all mixed up as a part of it. He was one man that I don't think Pendergast ever touched or tried to touch, although they were good friends.

JOHNSON: Then, after being presiding judge from 1926 to '34 he was elected to the Senate.

CUNNINGHAM: Well,, you see, a judge here is not a judge like everyplace else. He was literally a commissioner, building highways and supervising. He was not a judge; I never did know why they called it a judge.

JOHNSON: I guess that's an old Southern custom.

CUNNINGHAM: I guess it is, but I've been down in an


awful lot of Southern states since then, and I've never heard of it yet in another state.

JOHNSON: You were living in Oklahoma in the early thirties and mid-thirties?

CUNNINGHAM: No, I went out there in '35. I was from Chicago, and stayed in Oklahoma until the war and then went back until '48, and then went to Baltimore and lived there until about five years ago.

JOHNSON: But your father was still living here, your parents?

CUNNINGHAM: That's right.

JOHNSON: So they kind of kept you up-to-date on local politics?

CUNNINGHAM: Up until my father died, about ten years ago.

JOHNSON: Did he ever talk about supporting Mr. Truman?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, he supported him. I'm a Republican,


and even when he came back to Baltimore, he let me take him clear downtown to register and darned if he didn't register as a Democrat.

JOHNSON: Well, wasn't he a Democrat by background?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, by background. His father in Lima, Ohio, was a Democrat too; it was a Democratic family, all but me.

JOHNSON: I guess this moves us up to 19...

CUNNINGHAM: Well, in my opinion, Mr. Truman has more admirers among the Republicans than he has among the Democrats.

JOHNSON: Yes, it's kind of a bipartisan support.

CUNNINGHAM: He's one of the very few men, as I read history, that has bipartisan admirers, yes.

JOHNSON: Do you remember when he was a Senator and was serving as chairman of this investigating committee? This would have been, I guess, after you had joined the Navy. He became chairman of


that committee, in March of 1941, and served until the time he was nominated as Vice President in 1944. Do you remember anything about investigations being done by this committee between '41 and '44?

CUNNINGHAM: Only what I read in the paper. I had a lot of confidence in Truman. I knew that if Truman would do it, he would do as good a job as he did here on the highways, and the things he supervised here. In my opinion, Kansas City got a very, very good job. I realize that Pendergast paved one big project every year. I remember the year he paved Brush Creek as a yearly project. He had to move so much concrete every year. And, of course, Truman's projects all used concrete. That's a coincidence, but Truman saw that he got his money's worth. And I've seen an awful lot of city halls and I've seen a lot of courthouses and I don't think I've seen any any better. After watching politics in Oklahoma and Maryland -- see I've been a citizen of Maryland for many a year,


and my God, between Agnew and Mandell and Anderson, who is asking us in Baltimore County to pay for his legal fees now to defend himself against the same thing that they got Agnew for -- why you realize what a bargain really the people of Kansas City got in Pendergast.

JOHNSON: When was it you entered the Navy; you say in January...

CUNNINGHAM: I entered it right quick, but I stayed in Oklahoma City for about nine months before I got my orders to active duty. In fact, I even wrote a letter to the Navy wanting to get out so I could join the Army. I said, "The Army will take me right away."

JOHNSON: So, I mean the Navy had accepted you, but they had not inducted you?

CUNNINGHAM: I had my commission, but in '42 they were holding off. They didn't have training facilities.

JOHNSON: So you were going to be commissioned as...


CUNNINGHAM: I was commissioned, but I had not been called up to active duty.

JOHNSON: What was the rank then?

CUNNINGHAM: Lieutenant (j.g.). The Navy did everything by age.

JOHNSON: So you were waiting for this slot or whatever?

CUNNINGHAM: Fort Schuyler could only hold so many people in their ordnance training program. They finally built a bunch of barracks up there, and expanded from 350 or so to around 1,200 a month.

JOHNSON: Now, this is the x-ray expertise that you had gotten with General Electric?

CUNNINGHAM: That's what I was hoping to use, but I never used it.

JOHNSON: Oh, I see. Hadn't the Navy expected to be able to use that expertise?

CUNNINGHAM: They had it on their records and I had


hopes. You've got a general course up there in Schuyler, and I could handle anything that they had trained me for.

JOHNSON: So when did they finally...

CUNNINGHAM: The day I got out of Schuyler I was assigned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I think perhaps I may have been assigned there because I told then I'd enjoy being assigned anywhere. It made no difference to me, except in the New York-Long Island area. Well, I didn't know the Navy then like I do now, and as you know of course; that was the handwriting on the wall. I was the third man in the class to be assigned.

JOHNSON: Brooklyn Navy Yard?


JOHNSON: Do you remember the date when that was?

CUNNINGHAM: January of '43; it was cold. January or February, within a month of February, I think.


JOHNSON: January of '43, you went to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As a lieutenant (j.g.), and what was your job there?

CUNNINGHAM: Fire control superintendent.

JOHNSON: Fire control -- for the whole yards?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, no, we had a whole staff there. In other words, each man was assigned ships. Ships came in there for ten-day repair availabilities, and you would have maybe as many as eight or nine ships to keep an eye on. Or if they were a major job, you would have two or three ships.

JOHNSON: I don't recall if Senator Truman or his committee ever visited the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but do you happen to recall whether he did?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't remember ever seeing him. If he was there I didn't see him. No, we had very little to do with those things.

JOHNSON: So you worked then as a fire control superintendent from about January of 1943 until when?


CUNNINGHAM: Whenever I went out to the Pacific.

JOHNSON: On the Missouri?


JOHNSON: Okay. Well, you were still working as fire control superintendent in January, a year later when the launching of the Missouri took place.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, I was. I had that position until May '45.

JOHNSON: Were you involved in any of the preliminary work on the U.S.S. Missouri, the finishing work on it or the fire control?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, that was what we were doing because when they launch a ship there's not a gun on it, there's no wiring on it, there's nothing in the plotting room. It's a bare shell. The Missouri was the first battleship that ever had its main turret track, the circular track, actually turned while it was on the building ways. Normally, they


wait until they float them. And that was so with the other three battleships. But to speed it up, they actually did it while it was on the slanting ways. It turned out surer than the other three battleships, which is an interesting feat.

JOHNSON: What did you have to do with the fire control on the Missouri? Did you have anything to do with it before it was launched, before the ship was launched?

CUNNINGHAM: No, it was all in the planning stages. There was no fire control on it.

JOHNSON: But did you do any of the planning, the design work?

CUNNINGHAM: No, I had nothing to do with the design work. You see, that was a class battleship; that was the fourth of the class. The Iowa was the first. They were putting their first guns on the Iowa when I first went into the Navy yard. I worked on it just at the tail end.


JOHNSON: So, your job was to see...

CUNNINGHAM: But that was no good, because they had their crew on board. The guns are on board, but they had to be tested, and they had to be wired up and it was a mess.

JOHNSON: So, when did you finally get into the Missouri itself?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I chased the thing clear across the Pacific. I picked up the North Carolina at Eniwetok and got on it about -- I would say about July 15. If you've got that book I could probably pick up...

JOHNSON: I've got some dates here that might help us.

CUNNINGHAM: I got in all of the bombardments of Hokkaido and Honshu and the rest of the shore bombardments, which was fine.

JOHNSON: How about the commissioning? The commissioning was on June 11 of 1944, and the main speaker was Senator Bennett "Champ" Clark from Missouri.


Senator Truman was there also; he made a few comments.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, he was there.

JOHNSON: Were you there at that ceremony

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, I was there.

JOHNSON: Before we say anything more about that, we should talk about that launching on January 29, 1944.

CUNNINGHAM: That was when my work started, the week after that.

JOHNSON: But during the ceremony itself you had a...

CUNNINGHAM: I was the Naval Escort for Mayor [Fiorella] LaGuardia and his party (a Fire Department Inspector and his (LaGuardia's) two grandchildren). In other words, there were about 15 of us. A Commander Haley had about 15 of us at the officer's club to escort various high brass down to the building ways and I had to escort Mayor LaGuardia. My wife and family


were off on pier 3. They had tickets out on the end of the pier somewhere. The Mayor was bound and determined this time he was going right up top.

Well, they had assigned the children real good places to see -- right down at the bottom of the ways. Here's an excellent shot of the place; I can almost see us [referring to photo in book, the Mighty Mo]. But the Mayor wanted to get right up with the brass, and that was all right with me. So I showed him the ladder and he said, "Don't wait for me," and he went on up by himself. This is Mayor LaGuardia [referring to photo].

JOHNSON: Were the Trumans up there by that time or did they come later?

CUNNINGHAM: They were already up there. When LaGuardia says he's going someplace, far be it from me to argue with him. I didn't care that much. So I took the two children and the Fire Inspector, and I told the Fire Inspector it was the best break we ever got because up there where he was he wasn't going


to see anything except a lot of messy, messy champagne, and the back end of the brass hats. But we went right down on the ways and there you got a tremendous view of that thing going into the water.

JOHNSON: So you had a good view of Margaret Truman smashing the bottle...

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes, you could see her; she was up about six decks you know. That's quite a long distance, and...

JOHNSON: Did you notice the champagne coming back down on them before the ship moved?

CUNNINGHAM: I always anticipate that's going to happen, and I don't look for it. I've never seen a successful launching yet, champagne-wise.

JOHNSON: That was still a successful launching, wouldn't you say?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, a perfect launching. There have been a lot of bad launchings, and this is a very bad


place to launch a ship because you have to go down into the East River at an angle, and there's a terrific tide here that will take a destroyer right around the circle. But we're right down along in here.

JOHNSON: So you're in this group here?

CUNNINGHAM: Right here on the foreground of this photograph, on the starboard side of the ship. Of course we got a beautiful view. There's a better shot of it; you can just see that bow in the water, in one of these books.

JOHNSON: What's the title of this book again?

CUNNINGHAM: That's the Mighty Mo.

JOHNSON: Yes, Mighty Mo.

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I didn't look at this too carefully, but I did notice this one shot there. All these new shots are about the same; they slide down the same way, and sometimes they slide down a little


better than others. But that was a successful shot. It went off right away. Sometimes they hit it with a bottle, and then these things don't slip, and there's an embarrassing wait and they stand around. As a matter of fact, they put that plaque in the deck of that thing down at Norfolk and I still have a section of the deck at home -- a section of the teak-lined deck. They put a plaque in the deck to mark the surrender ceremony, and they had to lift up part of the deck. They did that in Honolulu.

JOHNSON: You have a piece of that?

CUNNINGHAM: I've got one of the five or six pieces that were lifted up. It's about 2-1/2 by 3-1/2 feet of teak.

JOHNSON: We could be interested sometime in obtaining this.

CUNNINGHAM: Sometime when I get a real good band saw, I'll make picture games out of it probably.


JOHNSON: Or give it to the Truman Library.

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, I don't think they need it. The plaque is at the Annapolis Academy museum; or it has been. It didn't last long on the ship.

JOHNSON: You saw the Trumans, but you didn't actually get introduced at this time?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, no. There's one whole folder in there (Truman Library Files) of people asking, begging Truman for tickets for this thing. People from Missouri and everywhere. There was one whole folder you showed me, and it included his secretary's tactful refusals.

JOHNSON: I know what you mean.

CUNNINGHAM: I mean, just to get in the yard, not to get up on the platform with them. Now, that was the trouble with LaGuardia. LaGuardia, because of politics, hadn't gotten up on the platform for the Iowa launching, and he'd been mad ever since.

JOHNSON: Do you think this is the first time he had


actually met Mr. Truman, face-to-face?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, no, surely not. No. He had met him; they were both politicians.

JOHNSON: The next time you saw Mr. Truman was at the commissioning? Were you there on June 11th when the ship was commissioned?


JOHNSON: Secretary Forrestal was there, and Senator Clark.

CUNNINGHAM: That was when the Captain took over command, and this is a formal thing. Forrestal was there.

JOHNSON: You weren't really part of the crew yet at that time?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, no, no, I was just part of the yard. All of the yard officers were allowed to go on board.

JOHNSON: Do you remember Mr. Truman speaking?


CUNNINGHAM: No, honestly I don’t.

JOHNSON: He apparently just said...

CUNNINGHAM: He said very little.

JOHNSON: Senator Clark was the main speaker.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Champ Clark was a very fine man -- well thought of in Missouri as you know. Just like Jim Reed was; they've got a succession of very fine men from Missouri.

JOHNSON: After that commissioning, it apparently had its first shakedown in Chesapeake Bay...

CUNNINGHAM: No. First of all they had to go out on two days of gunnery trials to proof the guns.

JOHNSON: This was right after the commissioning?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, the first time they went out, and they went out for two days. Of course, the press people, the PR part of the Navy, just invited all kinds of people; that's why it took two days.


They could have gone out and fired and been back in a half a day. But they had to have everybody out there, and they had so many hundred people that had to get in on the act; half of Congress was there.

JOHNSON: This was gunnery testing?

CUNNINGHAM: Every gun has to be tested. This was a part of my job. They would literally go out off of Long Island and fire every gun and make sure the frame doesn't break; make sure the gun works.

JOHNSON: Pictures were taken of that firing, I suppose?


JOHNSON: But this is not the picture, this one inside of the U.S.S. Missouri book?

CUNNINGHAM: No, this was taken down in the Gulf of Paria, off of Trinidad, on their shakedown. That was a 90-day process down there. That was where they actually went and trained.


JOHNSON: That's the picture that shows the projectiles, and maybe we will get up to that. You don't recall the Missouri almost grounding in that first trip out of Chesapeake Bay?

CUNNINGHAM: I read about it. That was down on Chesapeake Bay. This was later on when they went down and were checking out their compass. They had to do all that stuff. They went into Chesapeake Bay down by Norfolk. But this is not out of Brooklyn.

JOHNSON: Now apparently on August 1st Senator Truman toured the ship by invitation.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, he came back down.

JOHNSON: Did you happen to be there at the time?

CUNNINGHAM: No, I wasn't there. I didn't go out on the shakedown. I went out on a cruise down to Norfolk after post-shakedown. They came back on shakedown, but we put on the first electronic directors. They used electronic tubes in them


for directing the secondary battery, The Wisconsin was having them installed and we were. All the wiring diagrams were wrong, and we were having one hell of a time. We got them working. It was the only ship to go through the Canal with them working. They were putting them on the Missouri and the Chicago and the Wisconsin and some other ship.

JOHNSON: You call this an electronic...

CUNNINGHAM: They were electronic. At that time all of the secondary batteries were using (the Sperry gyroscope) local directors -- for the anti-aircraft guns, that is, for the guns of less than five inch. They put these new ones on. They were full of tubes and, frankly, every time they fired off the 16-inch guns, you spent the next day putting in new tubes. Even though you had shock mounts for them, they still couldn't take it.

JOHNSON: Were they supposed to be more accurate than the gyroscope?


CUNNINGHAM: They were more accurate. I went down when we sailed from New York and fired for two days. Then they started to the Pacific and they put us off. We had one boy that came down with meningitis, one of our director officers, and they had to put him ashore. So they got a destroyer over and we transferred him. They also had Captain Vogelai of Ordnance research, and two or three of his civilian engineers. They had to put them ashore. They were on there for some other purpose.

JOHNSON: You said you weren't there on the shakedown, but you were one of the crew members who did receive a colored print of this picture.

CUNNINGHAM: This was after they came back to New York Navy Day. Eastman Kodak came down to the ship and gave every officer on the ship a large copy of this, in color. This was on Navy Day of 1945.

JOHNSON: You mentioned the Missouri going through the Panama Canal on its way to the Pacific with the only operating electronic control, or aiming


control, working.

CUNNINGHAM: Mark 57 Directors only. All the rest of the fire control equipment was okay.

JOHNSON: They had only one foot of clearance on each side, I notice, getting through.

CUNNINGHAM: Actually it was a foot and a half, because it was 108.6 inches wide, and it's 110 on the Canal.

JOHNSON: Were there any important differences between the U.S.S. Missouri and the Wisconsin or the Iowa?

CUNNINGHAM: There's only one difference. The Iowa went out with something like 110 20mm guns on it, and by the time that we went through they had learned that they weren't as useful as they thought they were, and we took quite a few off. They are basically, exactly, the same ship.

JOHNSON: Apparently the Missouri got into Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve of 1944, December 24th, and left


on January 1. On the first day of the new year of '45 it left Pearl Harbor, for action.

CUNNINGHAM: Unfortunately I wasn't there.

JOHNSON: And in this period, now, let's say between commissioning in June and the end of the year, you were still working at the...

CUNNINGHAM: I was still back in the Navy yard. I had the Bennington, the carrier, and the Bonhomme Richard, which was still on the ways. It was another carrier. They are Essex class carriers: Then I had a real hard one, the Brooklyn. It came back for a complete refitting with all new training gear for the main batteries.

JOHNSON: Did you supervise the installation of fire control?

CUNNINGHAM: I had to be sure it was done right. If the Captain wanted to know what was going on, I was the one he asked.

JOHNSON: You kind of supervised and inspected?


CUNNINGHAM: I had to inspect it for the yard and get it operating. I had to go down to Trinidad with the Brooklyn because it went bad about a week before and we had to truck in from Philadelphia, from Crump Ship Yard, all new training gear for it. It was while I was down there that I got my orders to go out to the Missouri. We had been throwing left-handed requests at the Captain (Navy yard], you know, and he had been turning them down. You know the Navy.

JOHNSON: To get on the Missouri?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Captain Callaghan and Commander Malone. Commander Malone started out as gunnery officer when he left on shakedown and then was made the exec [Executive Officer] later on. He promised me he would get me on board if I could ever get a request into the Bureau. Captain Callaghan left the ship by the time I .got there. They wrote a second endorsement for my letter. The minute I got a letter out of the desk of the


local captain, I shot a copy out to them.

JOHNSON: Why did you want to get on the Missouri so badly?

CUNNINGHAM: I wanted to get out of the Navy yards just as much as anything. You work on something for two years, and you would kind of like to see it in action, wouldn't you? It's normal.

JOHNSON: So then you finally got approval to...

CUNNINGHAM: Yes, Captain Callaghan got it for me because he wrote a letter and, you know, by that time his signature meant something.

JOHNSON: What position on the Missouri were you assigned to?

CUNNINGHAM: It would have made me Fire Control Officer at the next overhaul period.

JOHNSON: A fire control officer.

CUNNINGHAM: If they had gone on into Eniwetok. I didn't


care. It didn't make any difference, just so I got out there. I was listed as F. A. Division Officer.

JOHNSON: Do you remember the day you finally got approval, or the day you finally got out to the Missouri?

CUNNINGHAM: It was something the order of July 16th or something like that.

JOHNSON: Of 1945.

CUNNINGHAM: I know I crossed the dateline going out there on my birthday, June 28th.

JOHNSON: Okay, you were not aboard when the kamikaze struck?

CUNNINGHAM: No. I was not. No.

JOHNSON: Did you ever hear any stories about it that were not published?

CUNNINGHAM.: No, nobody was excited about it. I saw


where the deck was burned, this and that and the other. It just burned the deck a little, didn't hurt the thing.

JOHNSON: I think you had mentioned...

CUNNINGHAM: There was a lot of criticism, though, why it got so close. They were all watching a plane hitting the carrier close by at the same time. I think too many officers were watching that.

JOHNSON: You said that during actions like this the chaplain broadcast over the P.A. system what was going on?

CUNNINGHAM: No, not on actions like this. During the surrender ceremony. Get me very clearly there! Oh, my God, no! The phone circuits were busy enough without a chaplain busting in. No, during that surrender ceremony we were talking about this morning, he could talk over the telephone circuits, which had nothing on them. See, you've got about eight or ten telephone circuits and he can plug in any one of them and talk on them. For instance,


all the men were cut in on 5 GP, they called it, and he just talked all the way through. So you had just about like a baseball announcer’s view of what was going on.

JOHNSON: Where did you get on board the Missouri?

CUNNINGHAM: Out at sea somewhere, in the Pacific.

JOHNSON: You were transferred from one ship to another?

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes, just like you see over here, on a chair -- standard procedure. They were refueling. In other words, they refuel at 14 or 15 knots alongside a tanker.

JOHNSON: Do you remember what ship you were on when you were transferred?

CUNNINGHAM: No. I went up on the North Carolina, but a destroyer came along and took me off it, and it was delivering stuff all around the fleet.

JOHNSON: The North Carolina was coming around to join the...


CUNNINGHAM: It had been in 90-day overhaul in Pearl Harbor, and they steamed into Eniwetok, fortunately, or I might have been there for another 30 days. In fact, there were two other officers going to the Missouri on the ship, and they never got there until the war was over.

JOHNSON: Then you got on board after the big typhoon. Did you hear about the big typhoon in early June?

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Sure heard a lot about it, yes.

JOHNSON: And the Missouri had come through that all right, but...

CUNNINGHAM: You can read The Caine Mutiny and get an action report of that. That’s copied almost verbatim from one of the action reports, I’ve been told.

JOHNSON: According to one of these books, the Missouri started bombarding Japanese soil again on July 15th of 1945.

CUNNINGHAM: That’s right. I missed the first one.


JOHNSON: The first series which was several months earlier.

CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Well, they'd been there before. They made one bombardment, and fell back and then they refueled.

JOHNSON: Oh, it was the same series.

CUNNINGHAM: What you do, you go in and fire and then come back out. We did several shore bombardments, and the accuracy was beautiful. We did one at night at a terrific distance and all we had to go on was a lighthouse way down the beach. And yet we fired at the beach and we put our first shot at the beach and you can see the splash of a 16-inch shell in the water, you know. Well, we fired six shells and got four splashes, which meant we hit almost astraddle on that beach, from there we could walk it right straight up where we wanted.

JOHNSON: Did you take over right away as fire control officer?


CUNNINGHAM: No, I didn't take over because the Fire Control Officer was still on board. He stayed on board. I was just working in the plotting room. I was one of the officers in the plotting room.

JOHNSON: You're plotting targets, right?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, running computer. You've got a secondary plotting room and a main battery plotting roam. The secondary is where all the action is, because they don't use the main battery plotting room but once in a blue moon, you see. In the last two months they only used it, what, five times, five or six times. But the secondary was going all the time.

JOHNSON: What's the difference between the secondary and the main?

CUNNINGHAM: The secondary fires the five-inch and 40mm guns against aircraft mostly.


CUNNINGHAM: Or other surface targets.


JOHNSON: But your bombardment of the shore would have been plotted in the main...

CUNNINGHAM: In the main one. You have a pair of those at each end of the ship. You have a main plotting room and a secondary here, and then at the other end of the ship you've got the same thing duplicated. And in action you alternate them.

JOHNSON: All right, the main plotting room at the fore of the ship controls that...

CUNNINGHAM: Exactly the same. It all controls the same thing.

JOHNSON: So, you were usually in the secondary plotting rooms?

CUNNINGHAM: That's right. That was my battle station.

JOHNSON: And these handled antiaircraft fire to a great extent.

CUNNINGHAM: All antiaircraft fire. Of course, if they'd had a ship to fire at, we would have fired


the five-inch guns.

JOHNSON: Did you have much anti-aircraft, or much aircraft threat while you were on board?

CUNNINGHAM: We had enough for me. We had to follow a lot of them. You always plot them until they identify themselves.

JOHNSON: But there were no kamikaze attacks on the ship after you got on board?

CUNNINGHAM: None that got inside the screen. By that time they had developed a screen -- every plane that came towards the fleet, coming back to the carrier, had to go up to a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) and be identified. And if they didn't they were shot down. The only trouble we were having was that we took on the British fleet for a couple of those shore bombardments, TF-37, I think was the designation. Those British pilots were awfully nice fellows and everything, but they were so curious about seeing so darn many battleships that they just loved to fly around and look down and look


at the sight, and they drove us crazy. Not only that, they had a plane called a "Sea Fire." Well, the American Navy uses the term "cease fire," and we got ourselves tied into knots right off the bat because they darn well weren't going to change the name of their plane. Well, Halsey had to get rather abrupt with them, and of course, he has the tact of a mule anyway. He told them to keep their planes the hell away from his fleet or they were going to be in an awful lot of trouble. And this is what happened.

JOHNSON: Did you ever fire at friendly planes by mistake?

CUNNINGHAM: I wouldn't know. I never watched the shells going out. We didn't have any complaints.

JOHNSON: You were in the plotting room; what was your position in the plotting room? Were you in charge of that plotting room? Or work with other plotters?

CUNNINGHAM: There are some 20 people in that plotting


room, and it depends on which watch it was whether I was the man in charge, or whether I was second in charge. I had about four officers all the tine.

JOHNSON: But you were in charge at least some of the time?

CUNNINGHAM: Most of the time.