|Judge Bill Cunningham brought his four books to Clinton for Hickman County's Arts, Crafts, Book and Food Fair to sign and sell. His wife, Paula, brought her cookbooks and did a brisk business while she kept the Judge, who loves to visit and talk, pretty much on task. Because of a previous commitment, they could only stay the first two hours of the Fair, but I was able to catch up with the Judge as he was leaving.
In response to the question, "What's it like to be a West Kentuckian living and working in the Capital CIty?"
Judge Bill Cunningham said that being a West Kentuckian in Frankfort is “Wonderful. Every day when I drive up the mall and see that huge beautiful edifice and thinks of the wonderful people far away and in a different time zone that I represent, I get a high. I am just so humbled to be there.”
Evenings and weekends when he is at work and the Capitol Building is quiet, walking by the Rotunda, with “Abe Lincoln, Barkley and Jefferson Davis staring down at you, you feel a little extra weight on your shoulders, knowing that you have so much responsibility for the brief period of time, I’ve been given to carry it.
He enjoys being a Kentucky Supreme Court Judge and plans to stay on as long as the Good Lord and the voters want him and he is physically able. Cunningham and his wife, Paula, have an apartment in Frankfort and commute together back and forth to their home in Kuttawa.
Cunningham is no stranger to being far from home. He enjoys a distinction that few would have sought: he’s one of the last American soldiers to leave Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. Not in the evacuation of Saigon, but after the war ended and the combatants got down to the details of peace. Cunningham was appointed the Joint Military Commission, Four Party to negotiate prisoner exchanges and investigate cease fire violations.
He was sent into the Highlands and Pleiku. He worked with North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese prisoner exchanges. American soldiers were already out of Vietnam. Cunningham says he wasn’t the very last person on the plane. He figured he had better not take any chances and get his seat on the plane.
His final day was in March 1973, he says. “March 31st, because I remember thinking that if I sat on the tarmac until the next day, I would get another month’s combat pay.”
Cunningham is a well known writer of Kentucky history. His book, “On Bended Knees, the True Story of the Night Rider Tobacco War in Kentucky and Tennessee”, written in 1983 continues to be a popular seller. The book was recently optioned to a Hollywood agent. In his agreement, Cunningham stipulated that the story would remain nonfiction and would not have a rating that would prevent young people from seeing it.
Judge Cunningham and his wife, spent a few hours in Clinton at the Hickman County Arts, Crafts, Books and Food Fair. The Judge greeted old friends, like Circuit Judge Tim Langford, District Judge Hunter Whitesell and County Judge Greg Pruitt. Paula Cunningham, publisher of McClanahan Books, brought her line of cookbooks to sell.
As for new books, Judge Cunningham has nothing planned at the moment. He sends out a column called “Benchmarks”. For now, his legal duties both at home in his district and in Frankfort are keeping him busy.