World War Two Pilot’s Remains Discovered in the Ukraine

On June 6, 1944, as the D-Day invasion of Normandy was underway, 2nd Lt John Donald Mumford of the Army Air Forces was escorting a squadron of B-17 Flying Fortresses in his P-51 Mustang over Romania. They were on their way to bomb a German air base.

After successfully completing the mission, German ground control radioed their fighters to engage the Allied aircraft. Suddenly, Mumford, 22, from St. Petersburg, Florida, was being attacked by ten German fighter planes. He was killed and not seen again for over 70 years.

The family would discuss him for years, but eventually nephews Ronald and Lynn Woolums ceased to think about Mumford very often, if at all. After all, he had died before they were even born.

Then they received a phone call from the US Department of Defense in January. A woman was calling to tell them that the remains of their uncle had been found after a thorough decade-long search. His remains had been located in a field in the Ukraine.

The nephews were surprised to find out that anyone was even looking for their uncles and more surprised that they had been able to find him after so long. They originally thought it was some kind of scam.

The Defense MIA/POW Accounting Agency (DPAA) had honestly found the remains of Mumford. They are bringing them to St. Petersburg so that the brothers can bury their uncle. They are perhaps understandably a bit overwhelmed with the turn of events as they try to fathom the last minutes of their uncle’s life.

Mumford was born on October 15, 1921, in upstate New York. His parents were Anson Mumford, Sr. and Mildred Mumford.

Eventually, the family moved to St. Petersburg where Mumford frequently went deer hunting with his father.

The earliest photo of Mumford shows him riding a tricycle designed to look like a biplane at the age of 9.

The brothers know very little about their uncle, so they were glad to receive the report from the DPAA which gives details about Mumford in an 80-page bound document.

Mumford enlisted in in the US Army Air Corps in January of 1942. He was trained on the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane but moved to the P-51C Mustang by the time he reported for duty with the 325th Fighter Group in the Ukraine.

After making the successful bombing run during the D-Day invasion, the Germans frantically launched a counter-attack against the American planes. The formation was attacked by German Focke-Wolf FW-190s, Messerschmitt Me-109s and Junkers JU-88s. Several engaged Mumford.

Ukrainian villagers working in their fields reported seeing two American planes chased by five or six Germans. One of the American airplanes caught fire and crashed in a field.

Villagers found the body of Mumford, but the Soviet Cossack Calvary ordered them to leave him where he lay. The International Red Cross later confirmed that Mumford had been in the plane when it crashed.

Mumford’s parents were originally told that he was missing in action then later informed that he had been killed.

A few years later the Woolums were born, with Ronald being the oldest. Ronald eventually joined the Air Force and became a teacher after he retired. Lynn went into advertising. They retired and kept busy playing in a band.

Meanwhile, the DPAA was searching for their uncle.

For decades, not much could be done due to the Cold War. In 2007, the organization that preceded the DPAA received information about Mumford from the Ukrainian government, Tampa Bay Times reported.

The DPAA sent a team to interview witnesses and search the field where the crash occurred. Using interviews and archaeological methods, they were able to recover Mumford’s skeleton and send it home for burial in Bay Pines National Veterans Cemetery in St. Petersburg.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE