TopVet: Randy Cunningham, Top Gun Congressman from California
In 1966, at the age of 25, Los Angeles native Randy Cunningham joined the Navy. It wasn’t long before he became one of the most highly decorated pilots in the Vietnam War. As the first fighter ace of the war, he was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor and received the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, 15 Air Medals and the Purple Heart, among other decorations.
Thanks to his background as an educator, Cunningham, who is known as “Duke,” went on to train fighter pilots at the Navy Fighter Weapons School – the famed “Top Gun” program at Miramar Naval Air Station. As commanding officer of the elite Navy Adversary Squadron, he flew Russian tactics and formations against America’s best combat fighter pilots. Many of his real-life experiences as an aviator and fighter pilot instructor were depicted in the movie “Top Gun.”
After retiring from the Navy in 1987, Duke Cunningham translated the Masters in Business Administration he earned at National University into a successful business in San Diego.
His interest turned to politics and he was soon elected to represent California’s 51st Congressional District, in the United States House of Representatives, where he now serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. At the beginning of the 106th Congress, he was appointed to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations subcommittees, which dovetails with two of his priorities: education and medical research.
Representative Cunningham and his wife, Nancy, the director of administrative support services for the Encinitas Union School District, have three children.