Cover photo for James Frederick Cunningham's Obituary
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James

James Frederick Cunningham

In 1937, James, on a dare by a friend, enlisted in the Marines at age 17. He had to wait until he was 18 to begin serving so in January 1938 he reported for duty. After almost two years he had 6 weeks to go on his enlistment when, on December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the reserves were called to service. In total he served from January 1938 to September 1945
He joined Company B of the 1st Marine Combat Engineer Battalion and was in the first wave to storm ashore on Guadalcanal, August 7, 1942. This was America’s very first offensive of World War 2, and so it grabbed a lot of press as the Marines turned back every assault. On December 11, the malaria-riddled 1st Marine Division was evacuated to the healthier climate of Australia’s Mornington Peninsula, near Melbourne, to recuperate and absorb replacements.
Uncle James was next called upon to dispense deadly force against the Evil Empire at Cape Gloucester. He recalled that the seasonal monsoons and bottomless mud were worse enemies than the Japanese. It was not until I researched it that I discovered that Cape Gloucester was actually a bitterly fought affair. The rain and bottomless mud just made everything a lot harder.
From Cape Gloucester, “MacArthur’s Marines” were shipped to a lousy tropical island known as Pavuvu, to prepare for their next mission. It was here that God began answering his mother’s prayers for her four sons’ safety.
He was boiling water for washing clothes over a 50-gallon drum. They would put sand in the drum and pour kerosene over that. The sand would act as a wick like a kerosene lantern. The flame appeared to go out, so he poured more kerosene on the hot sand which caused it to flame up, burning his arm. He recalled how they wrapped it so tight that it throbbed. They gave him ample morphine though. He said he thought that when his arm got better, he might burn his other arm to get more morphine.
He eventually recovered, but spent the next two brutal battles, Peleliu and Okinawa, safe and sound in the base hospital. Company B, with its Alexandria contingent, was wiped out to a man on Peleliu! Had Uncle James been with his unit, it’s likely that his story would have ended in September of 1944.
After the War, Uncle James moved back to Alexandria, got a job with the Post Office, married Aunt Diane, raised three sons – Tommy, Fred, and Jimmy – and racked up 102 years sojourning as a Christian saint in this topsy-turvy world.
In a marvelous twist of fate, I walked in Uncle James’ 1943 footsteps in 2002, as Robin and I taught and performed Swing music throughout Mornington Shire, where he had been billeted.
As recalled by James’ nephew, T.G. along with James’ sons Tom and Fred.

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Service Schedule

Past Services

Visitation/Service

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

9:00 - 10:30 am (Eastern time)

Semper Fidelis Memorial Chapel

1701 Semper Fidelis Way, Quantico, VA 22134

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Final Interment

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

11:00 - 11:30 am (Eastern time)

Quantico National Cemetery

18424 Joplin Road, Triangle, VA 22172

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