On his 100th birthday, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Francis Cunningham, who served as a cable splicer during WWII in North Africa and Italy.
After enlisting in the Army in September 1942, Francis Cunningham was sent to Sea Girt, New Jersey, for basic training. Based on his civilian work as a cable splicer, Cunningham then went on to continue his work at the cable splicing school at Fort Monmouth. Cable splicers work with wire and cable installations and maintenance of systems. During World War II, cables were important in the communication networks between divisions, and maintenance was key on the frontlines.
Cunningham was then assigned to the 63rd Signal Battalion, 36th Infantry Division. In the winter of 1943, his division was shipped overseas. But before they reached North Africa, their ship collided with another troopship and had to stop in Bermuda. The 63rd Battalion was then sent to Morocco on the SS Santa Rosa. After landing in Casablanca, the battalion moved across North Africa to Tunisia. During the spring of 1943, the battalion installed, operated and maintained signal communications for the Fifth Army. They also aided with preparations for the invasion of Italy, known as Operation Avalanche.
On Sept. 11, 1943, Cunningham’s battalion arrived in Paestum, Italy, and prepared for the attack against Naples. The 36th Infantry Division spent the fall and winter of 1943-44 fighting their way up the Italian coast and participated in several major battles such as Mt. Lungo, San Pietro and the Rapido River. The German army buried their cables and phone equipment to protect against bombing, and Cunningham and his comrades were tasked with finding and fixing German cables for use by the Allies.
Following the capture of Rome in June 1944, Cunningham was sent to southern France in mid-August and headed north to prepare for the Rhineland campaign against Germany. The 63rd Battalion reached the Vosges Mountains in eastern France and spent the fall and winter of 1944-45 supporting communications at the Siegfried Line. After the Americans reached Stuttgart in April 1945, Cunningham remained in the city until the German surrender on May 8. He was transferred to Heidelberg for postwar occupational duties but eventually returned to the U.S. in the fall of 1945.
Cunningham honorably discharged as a technician in October 1945. For his service, he received the Good Conduct medal, the American Theater Service medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal with six bronze stars and a bronze arrowhead.
After leaving the army, Cunningham returned to his job as a cable splicer and worked for the Philadelphia Electric Company until his retirement. In his retirement, he has visited Europe and many of the monuments associated with the campaigns he participated in.
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Writer: Sarah Concepcion
Editors: Julia Pack, Brooke Wolfenbarger
Researcher: Crystal Moore
Graphic Designer: Sarah Kowalewski