Star Staff Reports
After 72 years, Seaman First Class James Cunningham of Jackson, received the Purple Heart he earned as he went down with his ship.
During a ceremony in Millington on July 27, Rear Adm. Jeff Hughes, Commander, Navy Personnel Command, posthumously presented Cunningham’s 85-year-old sister, Clara Cunningham Osborne of Knoxville, with the decoration. Additionally, Capt. Alonza Ross, Commanding Officer, Naval Support Activity Mid-South, presented Osborne with the Navy Gold Star Families pin.
The ceremony was be held in the Navy Operational Support Center Memphis, 7994 Hornet Ave Building N930, in Millington.
Cunningham was aboard the USS Eagle (PE-56) when it was hit by a German torpedo in April of 1945.
Eight civilian divers known as the Nomad Exploration Team, were recently able to prove what really happened off the coast of Maine back in 1945.
The USS Eagle (PE-56) was originally believed to have been sunk due to a boiler explosion, but upon later investigation of testimonies and exanimation of the intact boilers, the U.S. Navy identified the tragedy as a combat loss. German submarine U-853 torpedoed the USS Eagle (PE-56). Of the 67 crew stationed aboard, only 13 members survived. The Naval Historical Center reclassified the Eagle as a combat loss, which resulted in the deceased members of the crew receiving the Purple Heart posthumously.
The Senior Surviving Officer, Lt. j.g. John Scagnelli, provided his tragic testimony to Cunningham’s family in a letter written August 2, 1945. Scagnelli recounted the events that led up to the ship’s sinking and the fate of many crewmembers during the attack on the USS Eagle.
On the morning of the attack, the USS Eagle was carrying out operational exercises, and just as the crew were eating noon-chow, a large explosion devastated the ship. The explosion split the ship in half and rendered many unconscious. The ship sank within minutes, and the many were not able to save themselves and went down with the ship. Cunningham was in his compartment resting during the disaster and was determined to have been unconscious, dying in a short time without struggle or pain according to the letter.
In addition to the Cunningham family, two divers who were part of the Nomad Exploration Team were at the ceremony.