ST. PETERSBURG SAR HONORS REPATRIATED WWII P-51 FIGHTER PILOT

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St. Petersburg Chapter SAR Board of Governors officers Charles R. Butler and John M. Stewart were honored to participate in special funeral services for WWII P-51 Mustang pilot John Mumford at Bay Pines National Cemetery on the morning of March 23.

The fascinating case of 2nd Lieutenant Mumford, who grew up in St. Petersburg, attracted local and national news media attention in March. It highlighted the Department of Defense’s ongoing commitment to locate and return members of the armed forces who were killed in action, and not recovered for burial.

Early expectations were for a small family graveside service, however, due to an outpouring of community interest in honoring America’s war veterans, last minute changes were made by the family to accommodate the public and news media.

The Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) has a special interest in honoring combat veterans of all wars, especially WWII. The St. Petersburg Chapter SAR has developed a unique, specifically focused community outreach program for just such occasions.

According to Board of Governors Chairman Charles Butler, during the past few years, the chapter has participated in more than a dozen funeral and memorial services for deceased veterans, SAR Compatriots, and DAR members.

The chapter has significantly expanded the traditional role of Chaplin to include proactive, visible community outreach services.

“Our chapter’s chaplain can participate in memorial services in modern dress, or if appropriate, or in a period correct Virginia Infantry Uniform,” he added. Members of the Chapter also participate by delivering eulogies and assisting families.

“Frequent, visible SAR participation in memorial and funeral services is a sincere and thoughtful way to serve our community,” Butler said. “It also meets our community’s expectations of service from our Society.”

“During times of grieving and loss, the SAR represents a stabilizing, comforting connection to the past, and the continuity of life, ” Butler said.

“Families are always so grateful for our presence and participation. It is also one of the most personally rewarding aspects of my SAR membership.”

The Funeral

The morning of the 23th of March seemed more like early summer than late winter. With families and friends standing quietly under a dappled canopy of Live Oak trees, Bay Pines National Cemetery could easily have been mistaken for just another verdant St. Petersburg park.

A sudden, short siren blast announced the arrival of the leading service cars, and law enforcement honor escorts for the funeral procession. Numerous police, fire, sheriff, and military vehicles followed, with intermittent siren bursts and flashing emergency lights.

Members of Rolling-Thunder provided a motorcycle honor escort. News helicopters circled overhead as the procession wound its way through the cemetery for nearly 15 minutes before arriving at the outdoor ceremony pavilion.

After Lieutenant Mumford ‘s family was seated, the service began with an invocation offered by the attending Military Chaplin.

Compatriot Charles Butler was then called forward and began the formal funeral service by delivering a eulogy emphasizing Lieutenant Mumford’s heroic wartime sacrifice in the service of his country.

“He was not a springtime patriot, or a summertime soldier. Lieutenant Mumford gave his life for America. We in the Sons of the American Revolution consider him a Brother in Arms. He is a Patriot for all of time.”

Compatriot Stewart Honoring Our Fall Hero

Compatriot Butler’s eulogy drew a clear and direct spiritual connection between the bravery of General Washington’s Continental soldiers and that which was demonstrated by Lieutenant Mumford in WWII as he fought valiantly against overwhelming odds.

Compatriot Butler then introduced John Stewart who offered a special memorial benediction on behalf of the family of Lieutenant Mumford and the Sons of the American Revolution. The memorial service was derived from a Patriot Prayer in the original book of prayers and services created by the NSSAR in 1889.

Two other Veterans Services groups spoke briefly to the family, then the customary US Military Funeral Service, rifle salute, and presentation of an American flag to the family concluded the ceremony.

After the Memorial service, the surviving nephew of John Mumford expressed his gratitude to the Sons of the American Revolution for participating in his uncle’s service, and for emphasizing the spiritual link to Washington’s army. He also expressed an interest in becoming a member of the Society.

The Story of Lieutenant Mumford

On June 2, 1944, Second Lieutenant John Mumford, piloting a legendary P51c high altitude fighter, was escorting a flight of B-17 bombers on a mission over what is now Ukraine when it was raked by marauding German Focke-Wulf FW-190s, Messerchmitt Me-109s and Junkers JU-88s fighters.

Mumford’s unit immediately counterattacked. During the ensuing dogfight, his Mustang took direct hits, one of which must have severed a fuel line or punctured a gasoline tank.

Leaking high octane aviation fuel, the aircraft caught fire, and plunged from the sky. Mumford’s Mustang crashed and burned in an open field. Nearby villagers did it recover his body.

The month of June ’44 faded into July. Summer drifted into autumn, and John Mumford’s Mustang fighter lay as it fell, in the soft earth of Ukraine.

Seventy-two winters passed. The harsh steppe winds, and the inexorable elements of the fields gradually covered the charred skeleton of the once proud P-51c, and its young American pilot with solitude, and timeless anonymity.

Meanwhile, undeterred by time and distance, The United States Defense Department’s Recovery and Repatriation Team persisted, and after seven decades, located and searched the crash site last summer.

A DNA analysis of recovered bone fragments, confirmed the team had indeed successfully located 2nd Lieutenant Mumford and his missing P-51.

In early March of this year, it was publicly announced that the remains of 2nd Lieutenant John Mumford would be returned to his family and home town, and interred with military honors.

The St. Petersburg Chapter SAR contacted the funeral home in charge, and extended an offer of Memorial Service outreach to the family of Lieutenant Mumford. The family gratefully accepted, enabling the SAR to publicly honor a courageous young American who died a violent death in a far away land, long ago, so we can live in peace today.