SD Vietnam War Memorial Dedication Please Support the Memorial Soldiers, Heroes, and teachers information



In Memory of U. S. Army Private First Class

Louis James Cunningham, Jr.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Minnehaha County

 November 19, 1947 – December 19, 1965

Killed in Action in Ankie, Vietnam


Louis James Cunningham, Jr. was born November 19, 1947, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Louis Flavin Cunningham, Sr. and Madeline Elisabeth (Eisenbraun) Cunningham. Louis had one brother and sister, Andrew and Anita. He attended school at Cathedral and Washington High School through his sophomore year. He was a member of the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. He was once a paper boy for the Argus Leader. According to family, he was a hard working young man who excelled in salesmanship of newspapers and magazines. He even won a trip to Minneapolis at age 12. He also enjoyed hunting and fishing throughout his life. At one point, his father said about him, “He was never a cowboy and Indians man … always preferred Army games. Even sports didn’t interest him too much.”

When he was still 17, on November 30, 1964, Louis entered the service and was trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, as a paratrooper and a ground medic assistant. He was in the 1st Cavalry Air Mobile Division, 11th Aviation (Pathfinder) Group, 1st Cavalry Division. He went overseas on August 20, 1965, and he was stationed at Ankie, Vietnam. He told his family that he hoped to make the Army his career. And “he never failed to send his earnings home for what he described ‘as his nest egg when he returned to the states.’” He loved getting letters from home.

The Argus Leader quoted many other lines from Louis’s letters home. For example, as a result of heroic service before his death, he had been nominated for the Silver Star, he reported to his family. Also, he celebrated his 18th birthday in Vietnam “by digging himself ‘a nice deep foxhole.’” Ironically, the next week, November 23, 1964, President Johnson ordered that all 17-year-old servicemen were to return home and not be involved in the fighting, according to Louis’ sister, Anita. Another thing he wrote home was “One of our company officers got himself a monkey and we’ve been having a ball playing with it. A couple of older Vietnamese women hit the monkey and it attacked them. They went running home.”

In another letter home, he said: “Thanksgiving was lousy for us but then, what the heck. I’m alive and next year I’ll be able to stuff myself silly.”

And there were words in his letters that hinted towards his uneasiness about his fate: “I received your letters today and I thank you for sending me those pictures (of the family). I’m sending them back to you as I don’t want any damned Viet Cong to look at them in case something happened to me.” And finally, in another revealing moment he wrote: “To you my sister, I leave all my worldly possessions. Will you promise to name your baby after me?” is what he wrote to Anita as his last wishes.

Very soon after, Private Louis Cunningham was killed in action in Ankie, Vietnam, due to multiple bullet wounds in his abdomen when ambushed by the enemy. According to his sister, “Our brother saved several lives before being ambushed in a rice paddy as he was retrieving wounded from the battlefield.” His body was recovered and returned to the United States from overseas on December 26, 1965. He was buried on December 31, 1965, at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Sioux Falls next to his father; Louis Sr. He received the Purple Heart, among other awards.

Now, two generations have been named after him, Anita’s son, Darren Louis Olson, and her grandson, Keanen Louis Olson. In addition to his sister, Anita, Louis is survived by his mother, Madeline, who resides at Elim Nursing Home, in Princeton, Minnesota, and Andrew, his brother, in Zimmermann, Minnesota.

In closing, according to the newspaper, Pfc. Cunningham supported the war effort in Vietnam “because he believed in freedom.” And as the paper stated, “He gave the last measure of sacrifice—his life.”

This was respectfully submitted by Sara Little, 8th Grade, Spearfish Middle School, Spearfish, South Dakota, October 13, 2005. Information for this entry was provided by Anita Olson, sister, an application for a Vietnam Veteran’s Bonus Application, and the Argus Leader, 12/20/65 and12/21/65 issues. Profile approval by Anita Olson.


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