Above: Our hero, Capt. Bill Munson (right) greets Rear Admiral D.M. Tyree, Commander of U.S. Naval Support Force, Antarctica. Official U.S. Navy photograph
By Greg Munson
Munson’s father was William Munson, a captain in the Navy, who flew anti-submarine patrols out of Greenland and Newfoundland during World War II. After the war, he was chosen to lead an all-volunteer squadron, VX-6 Antarctic Development Squadron, nicknamed the “Puckered Penguins,” which was part of Operation Deep Freeze, supporting naval and scientific research and exploration at McMurdo Base in Antarctica. This is the second part of a particular episode that took place during his time with the squadron. You can find Part One HERE, with an introduction by Bruce Mastracchio.
Captain Munson and Commander Lloyd Newcomer have volunteered to fly into Antarctica in the dead of winter to rescue a “sick” Soviet scientist.
Acknowledging Lloyd’s skill and nerve, the rescuers set out with Commander Newcomer as pilot and Captain Munson as co-pilot. The duo landed safely in total darkness and winter storm conditions, the first pilots ever to manage this feat. They boarded the ill and ill-tempered Russian and managed a successful takeoff. The “Herky-bird” performed the heretofore impossible task with nary a whisper of trouble.
Upon arrival in Christchurch, New Zealand, Mr. Kuperov, the Russian, appeared to have made a remarkable recovery. After some relatively minor medical treatment he was flown back to Mother Russia, and, therein lies the tale.
Captain Munson was convinced that the event had been set up by the Russians to determine whether or not the U.S. military could reinforce the strategically important McMurdo base if it were to be attacked by a hostile force during the long Antarctic winter.* If not, a small force could seize and occupy the base for months before a reaction force could be sent.
By showing the Soviets, once again, the technological superiority and indomitable spirit of America’s fighting forces, Captain Munson and Commander Newcomer struck a minor, but important, blow for freedom in the ongoing Cold War. These same elements, on a grander scale, eventually caused the Soviets to abandon their attempts at worldwide military superiority, and face the reality of their defeat.
For their heroics, Captain Munson and Commander Newcomer were awarded the Legion of Merit by the U.S. Congress.
In acknowledgement of Munson’s outstanding work mapping and exploring the vast continent with the National Geographic Society, the Society named “Mt. Munson” in Captain Munson’s honor.
Munson was not overly impressed as the mountain is almost always buried under ice and snow. He did like, however, the Official NGS Brooks Brothers parka used by its members at the South Pole. Munson treasured that parka always.
The C130 would later prove its worth and versatility, serving as a troop carrier, gunship, in-flight refueler, short field cargo carrier, emergency relief and flying hospital, weather and electronic intelligence platform and general purpose transport. It was a sturdy and durable aircraft that – alas – out lived “Lightning Bill,” who passed away in December 1995.
If there is a God in heaven, Captain Bill Munson is at the controls of his beloved “Herky Bird” delivering flight wings to his friends, all members of “The Greatest Generation,” which is slipping slowly away into history.
*In February 2022, EG News got an email from the daughter of one of the men involved in the rescue. She sent a link to a story about the incident involving the sick Soviet. In 2012, information surfaced that the problem was with his appendix, which burst and was removed when he was back in the USSR.
Note from Bruce: If you saw Bill Munson on the street you most likely would never have known what a true hero he was. Remember, it’s not always the size of the dog.
I always described him as a little guy. Turns out that “little guy” did some Big Things! He was quiet and distinguished. I was lucky to know him and his family.
His wife, Evelyn, taught my three kids at Meadowbrook School and stays in touch to this day. I kind of adopted young Bill, who was a shy, quiet boy and, in my way, brought him out of his shell, if just a little.
Younger brother Greg wrote this piece. He wanted to keep the younger generation, especially his two daughters, acquainted with the achievements and character of those men and women from the WWII generation, the character, citizenship and sacrifices that the Depression, WWII and the Cold War brought out in the people of that time, now that the last vestiges of that era are fading away.
I think he succeeded. Thanks Greg. – Bruce Mastracchio