WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman recognized the service and sacrifice of WWII veteran Wallace Cunningham in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
Wallace, a lifelong Little Rock resident, remembers listening to President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech the day after the Pearl Harbor attack with his high school classmates.
“We knew then that a lot of us would be going to the service,” Wallace said.
After high school graduation, Wallace worked at a local bank before enlisting in the Army Air Corps on his 18th birthday.
“I had my mother take me to a notary public down the street. He swore me in service at that time,” Wallace said.
Nine days later Wallace said he was headed to work and decided to get his enlistment physical. “I never did get to go to work. I finished my physical, they shipped me to Camp Robinson. I didn’t get back to work until three years later.”
After completing basic training at Keesler Air Base, Mississippi, Wallace continued his military education in Los Angeles in clerical school, becoming a technical supply clerk.
Wallace wanted to serve overseas, so when he was stationed at Kirtland Field, New Mexico he asked for a transfer to a unit getting ready to deploy. It took a lot of persuasion on his part to get his Major to agree, but he was eventually assigned to the 42nd Repair Squadron of the 42nd Air Depot Group.
The unit left for Europe in August of 1943 aboard the British ship Aquitania.
“It being an English ship, our food was English. Most of the time we had mutton to eat. It doesn’t have a real pleasant odor, so as a result, it got unbearable and guys got sick. Fortunately, I never did get sick but I decided that I wouldn’t eat any more mutton so we had chocolates most of the time,” Wallace recalled.
His unit was stationed in Ireland and England. It was in Oxford, one day before the Allied invasion of Normandy that he knew something big was happening.
“That morning you could look in the sky across it all, aircraft from one end of the horizon to the other. It was quite an experience to see them there. Such a vast amount of aircraft in the sky at one time overwhelmed me. I knew something must be going on, but we didn’t know what that was,” Wallace said.
He and his comrades landed on Omaha Beach a few weeks later and began the arduous journey through France that put them in Reims when the war ended.
“I thought that’s quite an experience, being in Reims when the war ended and the armistice was signed” he said.
“Wallace Cunningham is a true American hero whose service and sacrifice defeated tyranny. I am grateful for his dedication to our nation. Wallace’s memories of his military service are an important part of our history and I am honored to share his stories,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Cunningham’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.