Last Known Activity
Joseph Ralph Cunningham was born in Travelers Rest, South Carolina in November 1916, the son of Sloan B. and Mable B. Cunningham. He was educated in the Travelers Rest school system, graduating from high school in 1935.
According to the NARA enlistment record, he enlisted in Greenville, South Carolina on July 21, 1941 for the aviation cadet program. The record also states he was single, had completed 2 years of college, and had been employed in the textile manufacturing trade. It also stated he enlisted from the Regular Reserves, although no time elements are given.
He was trained as a bombardier,and assigned to the 14th Bomb Squadron in California. The unit left there on December 6, 1941 for Hawaii, arriving just as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The unit was moved to a temporary field and later participated in General MacArthur's departure from the Philippines.
The unit arrived in Australia and underwent a number of reorganizations. It essentially became a reconnaissance unit, but carried the 435th Bomb Squadron designation. On August 14, 1942, the aircraft Lt Cunningham was assigned to left Townsville, Australia on a recon run to Gasmata and Rabaul on New Guinea. The aircraft never reported in nor was it ever seen again. Speculation is that it was intercepted by Japanese fighters and shot down.
None of the crew were ever recovered, and all were declared dead on December 5, 1945. All are remembered on the Walls of the Missing in Manila American Cemetery and Memorial at Fort Bonafacio, the Philippines.
Lt Joseph Cunningham was acting as bombardier on B-17E # 41-2656, nicknamed "Chief Seattle," assigned to the 435th Bomb Squadron. This aircraft was one of many that had been paid for by citizens in a patriotic gesture. A bond drive in Seattle raised $280,535 to pay for it. It was presented to the Army Air Corps. It flew 1 mission from Townsville, and on the 2nd mission, it was lost.
Missing Air Crew Report 16345 was issued, and identifies the crew as:
1 Lt Wilson L. Clark p
F/Sgt George S. Andrews c-p
2 Lt Hubert S. Mobley nav
1 Lt Joseph R. Cunningham bomb
SSgt Elwyn O. Rahier eng/tt gun
SSgt John J. Dunbar asst eng
TSgt Irving W. McMichael r/o
Cpl Charles H. Hartman asst r/o
Pvt David B. Beattie AVS
Cpl Richard K. Pastor gunner
F/Sgt Andrews was one of 6 members of the RAAF chosen to train into the B-17.
Pvt Beattie manned the Air Vessel Search, a rudimentary type of early radar, to locate enemy vessels.
In the crew photo, Cunningham is in the back row, third fron left.
Service photo source: