Colonel Patrick Cunningham passes at 78

Posted at 11:31 PM, Mar 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-24 23:31:35-04

The flags are still proudly waving on the eve of Buffalo Naval Park's opening day. But it doesn't feel the same this year.

"Oh it will be odd... it will be very strange... it just will be," said John Branning, the Superintendent of the Park. 

That''s because Colonel Patrick Cunningham, who dedicated more than 23 years of his life to the Park, passed away Friday morning at the age of 78. 

"He wasn't only my commanding officer," said Branning. "He was my friend, and to lose him, it's been a blow. It's still singing in. It's going to take a little while because he's been here for a while."

Not easy news for Branning, who's known Colonel Cunningham for 11 years. Almost a decade of memories made together in this Park.

"He took me on board and took a little bit of a leap of faith on me and I hope he never regretted that because I certainly didn't," Branning.

With Branning having been in the Navy and Cunningham in the Army, a special bond quickly formed.

"If you put a Colonel and a Senior Chief together, stories can run pretty wild and pretty long," said Branning. "We started building a rapport like that."

Cunningham spent years battling a respiratory illness after being exposed to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam. But even that didn't stop him from spending time next to the boats and planes, and using his own money on the Park when it was struggling financially.

"He would come in here whether he felt like it or not and stick it out," said Branning. "He'd stay here all day, and we'd try and hooch him out the door but he would have nothing of it. He loved this place."

Colonel Cunningham meant so much to the people at the Naval Park that Saturday morning's opening will be dedicated to him.