MEET OUR MARSHALS: Korean War Grand Marshal Bill Kummer

Bill Kummer

Korean War Grand Marshal Bill Kummer

The month after he turned 18, Kummer officially entered the Navy as a Seaman Second Class. It was 1943 and many pilots were in training; the program was lengthened and toughened. But Kummer persisted and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps in January 1946 – only to be sent home several months later after budget cuts were passed by Congress.

Still undeterred, Kummer joined an Idaho National Guard Army tank battalion that had a unit in Moscow, becoming a USAAF pilot and, a short time later, received an order from the brand-new USAF that designated him as a “Liaison” pilot. In 1950, he was activated for Korea, once again with a new designation of Army Aviator with a new Army wings badge. That’s right – Kummer served in four branches as a pilot!

During the Korean War, he was an artilleryman and helicopter pilot. Kummer’s unit would contact the USAF bases nearby when they had an injured soldier or airman. “Our small, light helicopters paved the way to the famous ones used in Vietnam,” Kummer says. “Ours were so underpowered that strapping an injured person on the helicopter stretcher was a tense trip for machine and pilot – but we were successful!” He remembers the “photo” missions as being the most tense, as they had to fly the small aircraft at maximum speed – around 110 mph – right by the enemy position behind hills.

Kummer came away with a great admiration for the Korean people. “What a terrible cancer destroyed their county,” he says, “but look at them now!” He remembers going out of his way to meet them, and they just bowed their heads and worked. Seeing the plight of the orphans in the country, he sent word back to his hometown of Fairbault, Minnesota, for clothing donations. “They reciprocated very well,” he remembers. “I took the boxes in my H-13 helicopter to the orphanage. The kids were awed!”

In total, Kummer had over 22 years of active and National Guard duty, and was awarded a number of World War II and Korean (ROK) War victory and service medals and ribbons, as well as four Air Medals. He recorded an astounding 123 enemy territory flights. One of his most memorable passengers was General James Van Fleet, Commander of all troops in South Korea.

Kummer credits famed aviator Charles Lindbergh for instilling in him a passion for flying. “Lindberg was a fellow Minnesotan and made his epic flight in 1927, just a couple of years after I was born,” he says. “The local media featured many articles about flying as I was growing up, and our basement was full of model planes. I knew I would become a military pilot.”

Eventually settling here in Arizona, Kummer was employed right up to age 85. He and his wife Janet have lived in Phoenix for over 40 years; his daughter and grandchildren also live here. He has volunteered with Luke Air Force Base’s Retiree Activity Office, which he says has been “interesting and productive,” and is humbled by the honor of being selected as a Grand Marshal.

We hope you will join us at the 20th Annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on November 11, 2016, to see Celebrity Grand Marshal Pete Hegseth and all eight Veteran Grand Marshals. This year’s parade theme is “Welcome Home Vietnam Heroes.” The parade typically boasts more than 100 entries, and this year will have a special float with nearly 20 Vietnam Veterans riding on it. The parade will also feature patriotic floats, high school marching bands, JROTC marching units, color guards, Veterans Service Organizations, animals, novelty units and much, much more.

For more information on the parade and the parade route, click HERE