Friday, November 06, 2015

Col. James S. Munday, Happy 100th!

I was in Savannah, Georgia last weekend for my last surviving uncle's 100th birthday.

Lt. Munday in 1942
Col. James Stanley Munday's flying career began several years prior to World War II, when he and some buddies barnstormed all over the Midwest.  When the war arrived, "Uncle Stan," as many in the family now call him, went off to flight training for the US Army Air Force (before the US Air Force became a separate branch of the military) and emerged as a First Lieutenant and pilot (yes, you read that right, he skipped 2nd Lieutenant), commanding the crew of a B-24 "Liberator" bomber.

Before he could depart for overseas duty, the Air Force commandeered his squadron's B-24s for anti-submarine duty and switched Lt. Munday over to the venerable B-17 "Flying Fortress."  With barely more than a few hours to get "checked out" on the B-17, Lt. Munday found himself and a crew ferrying their own B-17 over to the 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood, England, which would be their base for the duration of the war.

Bastille Day, July 14, 1943 found the Americans engaged in a "maximum effort" assault to show our French allies that we were determined to win their freedom and achieve victory over the Nazis.  After bombing the Nazi-occupied Villacoublay Airfield and aircraft factories outside Paris, Lt. Munday and his crew succumbed to enemy flak and strafing from Focke-Wulf 190s.  Lt. Munday himself took an enemy machine gun round from a FW 190 in the leg.  Keeping the B-17 aloft while his crew bailed out, Lt. Munday finally bailed out almost too low for safety.

Col. Munday (2nd from left) with Alex Gotovsky (left)


Landing in his parachute in a grove of trees, near the village of Les Essarts-le-Roi, Lt. Munday was aided by a young French boy, Alex Gotovsky, who hid Munday's parachute and directed him to a hiding place.  (Young Alex' family had become refugees in France following the Communist Revolution in Russia.)

The treatment and recovery from the wound in Munday's leg would take many weeks.  Finally, with the help of the French Underground, Lt. Munday was disguised as a French surveyor, equipped with forged identity papers and sent south.  Being out of uniform and in civilian clothes with forged papers meant Munday would be shot as a spy if caught.  The long journey led over the Pyrenees (traveling through the mountains at night on foot) to Barcelona, then Madrid, then at last to Gibraltar, where he could secure a flight that would take him back to his base in England.

Col. Munday in 1963
Thus began an Air Force career that would take James Stanley Munday through B-29 duty in the Pacific, hurricane hunting over the Atlantic, and finally into the ranks of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in which he would spend the remainder of a long and distinguished career.  In those years, he flew every model of bomber and tanker (and most of the transports) that the Air Force possessed, becoming a Command Pilot and rising to the rank of Colonel.

In 1997, Col. Munday returned to the village of Les Essarts-le-Roi where he was awarded a medal and had the opportunity to be reunited with Alex Gotovsky, the young boy who had once helped him hide from the Nazis, both of them now much older.

The celebration of Col. Munday's birthday took place at the national "Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum" ourside Savannah, which Col. Munday helped found and where he volunteered each week as a guide for many years.  There was nothing quite like hearing about the Mighty Eighth Air Force's many adventures from a pilot who had been a part of them all.

Col. Munday with yours truly at his 100th birthday celebration.
If you are ever in the Savannah area, I strongly encourage you to take a tour of the museum, with its many exhibits and aircraft, and the magnificent grounds with a chapel that is a reconstructed English parish church like the one near their World War II base at Grafton  Underwood, England.

Col. Munday turned 100 years old on November 1 and is still sharp, vigorous, and in good health.  In what I consider to be a real act of faith, he just bought a new computer.  He will probably outlast this one too.

2 comments:

The Rev Canon David Wilson said...

Wonderful story Robert.They are truly the Greatest Generation

Iron Bunny said...

Uncle Stan is rough on those computers. He's been through a few of them. Each visit I would try to rectify some error. We once had to buy a new wireless mouse at the local Best Buy to fix a computer problem. Then there was the time when he couldn't get mail from his AOL account and ended up switching carriers. I fixed his cable TV to work with his VCR as the staff had incorrectly run the wires. And, as an added bonus, Uncle Stan always has great stories to tell.