1938 hfc jr

Aviation Ordnanceman 3c Harold Francis Cunniff

  • Branch: Navy
  • Hometown/City: MA
  • Date of Birth:
  • Date of Death:
  • Conflict: WWII
  • Unit:
  • Port/Base:

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  • This was written by my brother, Paul James Cunniff:
    June 29, 2011
    Symbol of Freedom

    There are some things that transcend their original purpose and become something completely different. In this case I am talking about a knife - not just a regular knife but a Fighting Knife from World War II. To be specific, it is a US MI Pal RH-34 FIGHTING KNIFE that belonged to my father’s brother, Harold Francis Cunniff. He is one of the many who gave their lives so we can live without the specter of tyranny.

    His plane took off one night to protect a convoy from harm and never returned. I know the knife was important to him because on the leather sheath he had put his initials, H.F.C., and the letters VP 94. I found out that VP 94 stands for the US Navy Patrol Squadrons in Brazil. This is where he was stationed. My father had kept the knife to remember his brother. And I keep the knife to remember them both and the sacrifice that was made for freedom.

    On November 28, 1943, my uncle and nine other men took off from Val De Cans Field in Belem, Brazil in a PBY Catalina (flying boat) for a night mission to provide coverage for a supply convoy. They last checked in with the base at 2220 hours, that's 10:20 p.m. It was speculated that the plane went down due to enemy action. All ten brave men on board were lost. Over the 6 - day search only 8 items from the plane washed up on the beach on the Para River. All items showed signs of severe damage. I can only hope that they did not suffer and died quickly.

    I remember my father bringing the knife with us on camping trips. The knife is about 9.25 inches long and has a blade that is 4.25 inches long with the letters PAL RH - 34 at the base of the blade. It is in a dark brown leather sheath with the letters H. F. C. and VP 94 carved into the leather. The leather is a bit ragged and the end is curled up a bit but is still flexible and smells of old leather. The blade is now a dull gray metallic color but is still very sharp. I think it meant a lot to him because it belonged to his only brother, or in case we were attacked by a bear. Either way he had it covered.

    My father loved to camp and I think he brought the knife along because it reminded him of his brother. When my father was three, his father died suddenly. His mother, my nana, remarried but her new husband did not want the 2 boys from the previous marriage. So my father and his brother were sent to live with their nana in South Boston. So there was only the two of them. I don’t think they ever got the chance to go camping.

    I think that is why he brought it along camping. I remember him telling the story around the camp fire, of how his brother had died, to me and my brothers and sisters. I also remember on a trip to New York, New York, my father made sure we visited the WWII Memorial. He pointed out my uncle's name and he also pointed out some of his friends that had also given their lives so we can be free.

    When my father died my mother gave me the knife so I could remember both of them. I keep it in a locked strong box in the bottom drawer of my night stand with other items that mean a lot to me. I feel she had given me the knife because I am also a military man having served in the Army & National Guard. She knows that I would keep it and never take its meaning for granted. There are many people who have given their lives so we can enjoy the freedom to live the way we want. So I keep the knife as a symbol of the how brave my uncle was.

    On occasion I do bring it out to show it off but not very often. It's something you can’t really display. After all, it is a deadly weapon and needs to be handled with care. So that is how I happen to have a knife from Word War II. I bet if it could talk it would have a real good story to tell, but I would have really liked having my uncle to tell me all of his war stories instead. So to me this is not a knife but a bridge to a time when the whole country got together and defeated tyranny, and something I can hold in my hand and remember all those brave men and women who gave their lives. It is important to cherish having the freedoms we have and to honor the ones who gave their lives so we can be free.

    Susan Cunniff, Niece