What would the perfect day look like for America’s first Female Asian Naval Officer?
One Sunday in the 1950s, Susan Ahn Cuddy awakens in LA. Being a section chief at the U.S. National Security Agency, after leaving the Navy after WWII, she lives faithfully as a great American, a strong mother, and a brave woman.
Even after my discharge from the navy, it has become a habit to wake up early in the morning. At 6 o’clock, my eyes open wide. When you wake up early you can enjoy a quiet morning and some time alone. I can enjoy a quick jog and be home before my daughter Christine and my mother are even awake.
While I have a nanny to help take care of my children, I still like to prepare a meal for my family on the weekends. Even if you prepare it in the American way, you can’t miss the Korean side dishes like kimchi. I want to feed my child the same things I ate when I was young. We may be a great American family, but we try not to forget our roots.
I have an early breakfast with my mother and daughter. There's no one in my house who's lazy just because it's Sunday. While my husband Frank is stationed abroad, I am staying with my mother for a while at home in LA. This is where I was born and raised. I learned a lot and made good memories here.
I remember when I turned 18 years old, Korean matchmakers would visit our house here. I used to hide on the second floor with my sister. My mother would be in trouble if she tried to lie for us, but she would let it go and just say, "If you're going to hide, don't make any noise."
Now I’m all grown up, having breakfast with my mother and my child. Life is a series of amazing things. My mother really didn't know I was going to marry a white man from Ireland.
We leave the children with their nanny and my mother and I go to our Korean Church. It’s an old place, that has existed since I was very young. It's a very precious community space for people like us who come from far away and settled here.
You can see people from various historical backgrounds during worship. Slavs, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Mexicans, and the causasians who have long been rooted in the United States.
After the service, I walk through the church yard and catch a softball. A girl in YWCA's uniform shouts an apology. I throw it back with a smile. I still remember the old memories of being a member of the YWCA softball team. I started playing baseball at the age of 16 and played as a slugger for the college team.
Seriously, softball is a sport made for girls. You can learn teamwork and competitiveness. When Christine grows up a little, we'll play catch together.
The World War is over, but the Cold War has begun. I got out of the navy and looked for a new job. The NSA, the National Security Agency, was waiting for me. I was offered the role of a leader of a team that decodes codes and analyzes sensitive diplomatic information. There was no way I could refuse.
Of course, there were a lot of people here who didn't believe in me. I’m Asian, I’m female, I even have young children. But that prejudice doesn't matter to me. It's not something to fight over, it's not something to get angry about. I'm here to do my job and I just need to do it well.
I had a short tea time with my team members after the meeting regarding the decryption of confidential documents. Everyone was curious about my naval days, so I told them very briefly.
"When I first applied for the Navy's Academy, I was rejected. Because I’m Asian. So I just applied as a regular soldier. After six months of training there, I got a letter of recommendation for the officer's school. Soon after, I became the first Asian female artillery officer in the U.S. Navy”
Many people are surprised whenever I talk about this, but I'm always calm. I decided to follow my father and become an officer to fight against Japan, and I found a way. I didn't have time to be frustrated or hurt by prejudice and discrimination.
Life is not fair by nature. You just have to do your best to succeed.
My daily life has become very busy since I came back to LA recently. There's a lot of work to do on Sundays. I also plan to study East Asian studies at USC Graduate School. Going back to school is very exciting.
When I first entered college, people hardly knew about Korea, and I was the only Korean student, but I think a lot will change in the future. Then I will be able to teach younger students what I have experienced and learned.
After a noisy dinner with my family, I played with Christine while talking about the old days, until late into the night. It's time to write to my husband, Frank, who's deployed in the Pacific.
I drink a tropical cocktail and transcribe what happened today one by one into written words. This special cocktail is a recipe that I developed with him and has a very sweet and intense charm. Koreans and Irish people are both famous for their love of alcohol, so anything made together would be worth knowing right?
🍊 Susan’s Tropical Cocktail Recipe 🍍
❶ Fill a glass with ice
❷ Fill half of the cup with orange juice
❸ Fill it half again with pineapple juice
❹ Add Grenadine syrup to make it a bright red color
➎ Finally, add as much Rum as you like and it’s done!
This cocktail is also very popular in the restaurant run by my brother. It became a specialty of LA. The fresh and bitter taste symbolizes celebration of the large and small successes made by us, the children of great fathers and strong mothers settled in this unfamiliar land.
"Be a great American. But don't lose your Korean spirit." I recall my fathers words. Look, I did it. Born as the daughter of Ahn Chang-ho and Lee Hye-ryeon, I live bravely with the courage I inherited. I'll make it tomorrow, too. And the next day. This legacy will never just disappear, and no one can take it away.