AP NEWS

An Attack, and a Birthday Decision for Lunenburg’s Fred Cuddy

December 9, 2018 GMT

LUNENBURG -- Veteran Fred Cuddy celebrated his 18th birthday on the same day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war on Japan after its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that killed over 2,300 service members.

On Saturday, he began his 95th birthday with a surprise party thrown by his brethren from DAV Post 30. The spry, former Navy man, spoke to the 20 vets who braved the chill to help him celebrate.

“I joined the Navy right after the attack,” he said. “By January, I was wearing the uniform.”

His first assignment was as a boatswain’s mate on the brand new battleship, USS North Carolina. He spent the next three years aboard the ship, battling the Japanese navy in the Pacific theater during World War II.

On Saturday, he spoke as if it had just happened yesterday.

“I was on it when a torpedo hit us in 1944, killing five of my shipmates,” he said.

The USS North Carolina limped back to San Diego where repairs were made and the boat headed back into the theater of operations. It ultimately became the most decorated ship in the entire Pacific Fleet and is now a museum in Wilmington, North Carolina.

He was already, unwittingly dressed for the occassion, wearing an American flag-themed necktie as part of his outfit for the International Veterans Choir, in which he sings harmony. The event was punctuated by a salute from active Navy Lt. Jason Poitras, executive officer of intelligence at Ft. Devens.

But a lot has happened for Cuddy in the 77 years since Pearl Harbor. After the war, he returned to Lunenburg to raise a family and reintegrate into his community. His roots spread throughout town; his four children, 13 grand children, 22 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren remain close to patriarch.

“Every one of them has laid down in my bunk,” he said. Each year he travels to the de-commissioned battleship and walks through the passageways and quarters, showing each year’s group of family the ropes.

All 44 of his descendants has taken a turn laying down in the bunk that Cuddy occupied for three years, deep down in the third deck of ship BB-55.

Working many years in the construction industry, Cuddy now spends his days visiting friends at Fitchburg Marine on Massachusetts Avenue, and his nights at the DAV Post 30, exchanging stories with his fellow veterans.

“Let’s all meet here again in five years for my 100th,” he said.

His friends gave Cuddy a baseball cap with the words, “US Navy, BB-55” scrawled in bright yellow across the black front.

With his son, Rick, beside him in the crowded boat store, he beamed with pride partially at the recognition from something that happened 77 birthdays ago, but mostly about the anchor he had become to his family and to his community.

A personal note from the reporter: My grandfather also served contemporaneously with Cuddy in the Pacific theater aboard a troop transport ship. His ship moved from island to island, delivering Marines to beaches. His ship, the USS Harris, was protected by men in ships like the USS North Carolina.