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History Minute: Admiral Ira Nunn

August 3, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.

Admiral Ira Nunn was known for bravery and dedication to duty. He was a decorated hero for his actions in the South Pacific during World War II and was a skilled administrator, playing an important leadership role as the Cold War began after the war. His road to his heroic career began in small-town Arkansas, in his birthplace of Camden.

Ira Hudson Nunn was born in Camden in March 1901, part of a family with deep roots in Ouachita County. His father was fairly prosperous and ran a successful local business. As a youth, Nunn was sent to a military school in Alabama where he received his high school diploma in 1920. He earned a nomination to the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and enrolled that fall.

He graduated from the naval academy in 1924 and was commissioned as an ensign. His first assignment for the navy was at the Ordnance Bureau in Washington, DC, where he helped organize ammunition distribution for naval vessels. Soon afterward, he was assigned to the USS Texas, one of the navy's top battleships. The navy kept him moving from one post to another quickly. He spent a brief time at the Naval Torpedo Station in Rhode Island in 1926 to train with the navy's new torpedo systems. Over the next five years, Nunn would serve on three different ships, slowly moving up the ranks.

In 1931, the navy reassigned Nunn to the Judge Advocate General's office. Though he had been an able sea officer, he became fascinated with the law and enrolled at Harvard Law School, earning a law degree in 1934. Not long after his graduation, the navy sent him to China for the next three years. The navy had sent gunboats to patrol China's major rivers as part of the United States government's efforts to protect American citizens and American business interests as a civil war raged across the country. He served on two small boats before serving on the cruiser USS Augusta before returning to Washington to work with the Judge Advocate General's office once again. His service in China ended two months before the Japanese invasion.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, he was serving aboard the cruiser USS Northampton as part of a scouting patrol. In 1942, he was assigned to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations as an aide until he was promoted to captain in June 1943. He was made commander of Destroyer Squadron 47 as part of the navy's island-hopping campaigns in the South Pacific, as the U. S. retook the islands one at a time.

The navy staged a massive invasion of the Philippines in late 1944 as an effort to retake the islands from Japan. Nunn's squadron faced intense attacks from Japanese ships and from kamikaze attacks. His skillful maneuvers and dedication under fire earned him the Navy Cross, one of the highest awards the navy offers.

In the last year of the war, Nunn commanded Destroyer Division 54 as American forces saw bitter combat at Iwo Jima and Okinawa in early 1945. He was awarded a bronze star at Okinawa for his daring maneuvers to protect the aircraft carriers as they carried out air raids against Japanese positions.

After the war ended, she spent the next three years back at the Judge Advocate General's office, helping the navy with congressional appropriations and reorganization for the post-war world and the emerging Cold War with the Soviet Union.

In 1952, Nunn was promoted to rear admiral and named head of the Judge Advocate General's office for the navy. In October 1956, he was named commander of the Atlantic Fleet. Two years later, Nunn was sent to Korea to serve as part of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission to help with post-war defense of South Korea.

For his last assignment, in 1961, he was given command of the Ninth Naval District in Illinois. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his leadership. He officially retired from the navy in 1963 at the age of 62.

After his retirement, he lived in the Washington, DC, area and worked for the next decade as an attorney for the National Restaurant Association. His naval tenure was still admired years after his retirement. In honor of his service, Nunn Island, a small, ice-covered island off the coast of Antarctica was named for him. He died at the age of 88 at his home in the Washington suburbs and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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