Missing St Pete WWII pilot finally coming home

A pilot shot down in eastern Europe is finally getting his due recognition.

He's been gone from home so long even his surviving family never met him. But Ronald and Lynn Woolums had heard of their uncle, John Donald Mumford.

"My grandmother would call him Don," said Lynn Woolums.

The brothers knew he was a pilot in World War II and had gone missing in action somewhere in eastern Europe on D-Day in 1944.  According to the Army, 2nd Lt. Mumford was escorting B-17 bombers in his P-51 Mustang fighter on a successful bombing of a German airfield. But afterward, he was chased by several German fighters and shot down over what is now the Ukraine.

"A sad piece in history because my grandmother was a member of the Gold Star mothers. She was a Gold Star mother for like 40 years," Lynn said.

No one, not family or the government, really knew where Lt. Mumford died. But the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency had been following a lead for around the last decade.  A tip led investigators to a small village in southwestern Ukraine.

Elderly farmers remembered seeing a P-51 being chased and shot down near the village and crashing in a farmer's field. Finally last summer, using archeological methods, investigators uncovered pieces of the plane and some of Lt. Mumford's remains. His identity was confirmed in January when the Woolums received a phone call.

"I thought it was a scam.  Oh yeah, right," Lynn said.

Investigators, though, had compiled an 80-page binder full of evidence documenting the search and discovery of Mumford.

"The details that we never knew before," said nephew Ronald Woolums.

"It's very cathartic, really, to have an ending to that, to have the fact he is back home and that he is honored," Lynn Woolums said.

Lt. Mumford, back home in St. Petersburg for the first time since 1942, will be laid to rest at Bay Pines National Cemetery on Wednesday, with full military honors.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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