[Randy Cunningham Photo] The Unauthorized Randy “Duke” Cunningham Page

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I’m a Self-Proclaimed Vietnam War Hero!

[Young Duke Cunningham, 10 May 1792. Photo# USN 1151717] You know, I’m a self-proclaimed hero in the Vietnam War. We sure showed those Vietnamese who’s boss, didn’t we? Why am I a hero? Never mind that I was nominated and rejected for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Never mind that my flying was at the end of the war, when it was way too late to have any effect on the war’s outcome. However, I was either shot down once by a SAM (or ran out of fuel). You know, in the old days you had to do something like rescue your buddies under heavy fire or play a major role in winning a battle to be a hero. But, thanks to what I call “hero inflation” (or what Shakespeare’s Henry V called “remember with advantages” (act 4, scene III)), it’s not that tough anymore! That reminds me, do you know the difference between a “fairy tale” and a “Navy sea story?” One begins with “Once upon a time” and the other begins with “This is no &%$#,” and the fairy tale is based on fact.

Breaking and Entering the Commanding Officer’s Office

Order "Fall from Glory" ** For details, read Fall from Glory: The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy, by Gregory L. Vistica, a former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter.
CLICK ON the book cover or title to find out more or order the paperback edition.
Gregory Vistica, a Newsweek reporter (and former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter) wrote a book about the Navy in Vietnam and up to the “Tailhook Scandal” called Fall From Glory; The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy. This book was selected by the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings as one of the notable books of the year. Mr. Vistica writes about the time when I broke into Jack Ready’s office (my Commanding Officer—CO). This was because I wanted to find out why I was rated at the bottom of my squadron by the Commanding Officer (CO) at “Top Gun” naval flight school. It’s all true, of course, but fortunately I wasn’t court martialed for my breaking & entering the CO’s office when Jack Ready found out. That’s because I just became an “ace” and it would be a P.R. disaster to court martial an ace. I became an ace toward the end of the war, long after it had any chance in changing the war’s outcome, but an ace is still an ace—I can do anything I want! I was also famous for being a womanizer in the Navy and was picked up several times by the Shore Patrol for drunkenness. You see, once you’re an ace, character doesn’t matter anymore [ Vistica, Fall From Glory, pp. 128, 232-237, 442, Newsweek, 12/12/2005 Union-Tribune 1/15/2006, See also discussion by those who served with Cunningham].
Randy Duke Cunningham in plane tossing out money (credit: Rita Tamerius for Congress, 1996).
[Credit: Tamerius for Congress]

Fake War Stories

Some people say I have delusions of grandeur because I claim the “Top Gun” movie was actually about me. Well sure it is—don’t I look like Tom Cruise?

Some people (such as Lee, below) say my “dog fight” war stories are lies. Well, all I can say is trust me. I’m a politician—I don’t lie.

From: “Lee Brimmicombe-Wood”
Subject: Colonel Tomb
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001 17:30:15 -0000

Interesting page on Duke Cunningham. Even more interesting is the myth about his fight against Colonel “Tomb” (or “Toon”, depending on your source) on 10th May 1972 over North Vietnam. America’s first Navy ace in the South East Asian conflict faces off against a fourteen kill hero with a name like “Tomb”. Sounds like something out of Hollywood, doesn’t it?

It is.

Two scholars, Dr. Istvan Toperczer and Marshall L. Michel III (the latter the author of the definitive book on the air war in Vietnam, Clashes) have visited Hanoi separately performing original research on the air campaigns. Michel is a former USAF Phantom pilot with a number of missions over Vietnam to his name, has flown practice combat against Cunningham, and can hardly be called a ‘Commie Lover’. Both Toperczer and Michel asked the Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF) about “Tomb/Toon” and got a blank response.

In short, the man didn’t exist. As Marshall Michel put it to me, the VPAF aren’t slow to honour their finest. And dead martyrs are as good as live ones. They had no Earthly reason to cover up the death of a top pilot. The only reason they didn’t comment on the loss of a hero is that he didn’t exist.

So where did the Tomb myth come from? No one knows. I have personally heard all sorts of theories. Tomb is an amalgam of several officers. He really did exist but the details are still secret and are being held by the NSA. He was a Russian adviser. All sorts of conspiracies abound.

The story is muddied by Cunningham, who was one of the earliest Top Guns; a real ‘gung ho’ flyer who believed he couldn’t be beat in anything with wings. Cunningham states his opponent was really good. But Cunningham wasn’t flying too well that day. His RIO, Willie Driscoll, gives a more level-headed account of the flight and states that on several occasions he recognized that he and Duke were in a less-than-good situation and asked Cunningham to extend and get out. Duke refused, telling Driscoll that he was on top of things.

Expert opinion is divided. There’s a big strand of thought amongst the flying community that anyone who gets a kill must have done well to get it. But there’s another which says that Cunningham took enormous risks to get this kill and it could so easily have gone wrong. I incline to the idea that this was not the best of fights, Cunningham was not thinking straight, and that there were far more sensible things he should have done that day.

Not that Duke would accept this view...

- Lee Brimmicombe-Wood


Author: Tom Cooper
Newsgroups: rec.aviation.military
Date: 2001-08-03 00:13:42 PST

it’s not so that US pilots haven’t shot down anybody, but they fought somebody they believed was “Col. Toon/Tumb”. From what I know, this name was not a result of Vietnamese propaganda, but a kind of “urban legend” between US pilots in SEA; they talked about him, the Vietnamese haven’t.

One Day in a Long War, by Jeffrey Ethell and Alfred Price, Guild Publishing, 1989, appendix, p.189:

“Q: Who piloted the MiG-17 that engaged Randy Cunningham so aggressively before the latter shot it down?

A: Several Western accounts have stated, that the pilot of the third MiG-17 shot down by Randy Cunningham and Willie Driscoll on May 10 was Colonel Tomb or Toon, said to have been the top-scoring North Vietnamese fighter ace. The source of this information is said to be so sensitive that it cannot be revealed after seventeen years. (If all of the stories about the colonel are to be believed, he was in action three times on May 10, flying a different type of MiG on each!)

Despite an intensive search of Vietnamese open literature the authors have found no reference that can be linked to a Colonel Tomb or Toon, however. Accounts of exploits of famous pilots were often published and it is unlikely in the extreme that so successful a North Vietnamese pilot would not have received public recognition. (By May 1972 all the MiGs sent into action over North Vietnam were flown by North Vietnamese pilots.)...

...The authors believe there was no Colonel Tomb or Toon, and no North Vietnamese pilot achieved thirteen victories. Probably Tomb or Toon was a nickname given to a Vietnamese pilot often heard by U.S. radio monitors, whose real name was not known. The real name of the pilot of the third MiG-17 shot down by Cunningham and Driscoll remains a mystery.”

Several years later, Istvaân Toperczer, a Hungarian author which visited Vietnam and researched extensively with the help of official records, explained the rest about “Col. Tomb” in his Air War Over North Vietnam, published by Squadron/Signal Publications, ISBN: 0-89747-390-6, p. 61:

“Who was Colonel Tomb?

There is a final note on the legendary VPAF fighter pilot Colonel Tomb mentioned in many Western publications. During my visit to Vietnam I tried to find out about him, but it seems that he is, and was, only an imaginary figure. There are several reasons for this:

There were very few pilots in the VPAF and they knew each other very well either from their training courses abroad or from joint service in VPAF regiments. Both Nguyen Van Coc and Pham Tuan (decorated VPAF pilots) denied, in separate interviews, that they knew or had ever heard of “Colonel Tomb”.

  • There is no official record of a Colonel Tomb in VPAF files, and, if he really had 13 victories, the VPAF propaganda machine would certainly have used him.
  • In 1972 there were no active pilots with rank of Colonel in the VPAF.
  • No North Vietnamese pilot had 13 aerial civtories as reported by western experts.
  • The name Tomb does not exist in the Vietnamese language, nor are there any similar sounding names.”

According to Toperczer, the “top-scoring" would be Nguyen Van Coc, with nine claimed kills, followed by Nguyen Hong Nhi and Mai Van Cuong, with 8 each.


Tolerating Tailhook and Assaults on Women

I did teach others to fly at Miramar Air Station too (you know, “Top Gun” and those wild “Tailhook” parties, which I help keep secret); doesn’t that count for something? Here’s what Dan Kripke, the 1998 Democratic candidate for the 50st Congressional District has to say about me and my “Tailhook” gang:

In the notorious Tailhook gang, Mr. Cunningham was a Member of the Board. Thus, he had supervisory responsibility for a scandalous Tailhook meeting, at which women were made to run the gauntlet, according to the Department of Defense Inspector General’s report. Mr. Cunningham condoned improper behavior of which he was aware and failed to report it to legal authorities. **

As a Commander at the Miramar Naval Air Station, Mr. Cunningham permitted sinful debauchery and abuse of women at the Officer’s Club rarely equaled since the pagan orgies of ancient Rome.* Charles Fleming’s new book also described extreme cocaine abuse and pilots with naked women in an Officers Club pool during filming in which Mr. Cunningham participated.


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