WWII veteran’s remains to return to Florida, 73 years later

A newspaper clipping announces that Mumford was missing in Europe in 1944. Photo via the Tampa Bay Times.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) A World War II veteran’s remains will be returned to his family in Florida, some 73 years after he was shot down by German fighters.

The Tampa Bay Times reports (http://bit.ly/2n9cb0O) the remains of Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. John Donald Mumford were found in a field in what is now Ukraine. The remains will arrived in St. Petersburg on Thursday.

For years, Mumford was the subject of family stories, known through fading photos and failing memories as a dashing young man with a desire to fly. But it had been years since his surviving nephews had even thought about their uncle, who died before they were born.

In January, the U.S. Department of Defense called to tell the family that after 10-year search, their uncle had been found.

On the morning of June 6, 1944, as history was being made off the coast of Normandy, Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. John Donald Mumford was flying his P-51 Mustang fighter through the skies over Romania. He was escorting a squadron of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers to an air raid on a German airfield.

The mission was successful. But after the raid, German ground control radioed to its fighters: “Contact the enemy. Close in on the enemy.”

In minutes, Mumford, 22, of St. Petersburg found himself attacked by 10 German fighters. He was never seen alive again.

It never occurred to Mumford’s nephews that anyone was looking for their uncle, let alone that they would actually find him after so many decades. “I thought it was a scam,” said Lynn Woolums, 67, who like his brother still lives in St. Petersburg. “I was like, ‘Really?’ It was too good to be true.”

But it was true. And thanks to the Defense MIA/POW Accounting Agency, or DPAA, a unit of the military dedicated to finding missing troops, Ronald and Lynn Woolums are preparing for an unexpected visitor.

Mumford’s remains are scheduled to arrive at Tampa International Airport.

Now the brothers’ heads are filled with thoughts of their uncle and his last frantic moments zooming through the skies of Eastern Europe, chased by machine-gun blasting Nazi warplanes.

“This is rather overwhelming,” said Lynn Woolums, a retired advertising agency owner.

“This is unbelievable, really,” said Ronald Woolums, 68, a retired teacher.

The Woolums brothers know very little else about their uncle, who grew to be nearly 6 feet tall and 150 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes, according to military records. So they were both amazed and grateful to read the details compiled by the DPAA in an 80-page, plastic-bound report about the incident and the search for his remains.

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