PHOENIX — To say that Phoenix resident Bill Kummer was a member of the greatest generation may be a little bit of an understatement.
The veteran earned eight medals during a 24-year military career, in which he served in the Army, Navy, Army Air Force, Marines and Army National Guard. He was a pilot during both World War II and the Korean War.
It has been an amazing life for Kummer, 91, who went straight from high school into WWII.
“That was the epitome of war,” he said. “We lost so many people and the country was financially busted.”
But he said the war brought our country together.
In Korea, among the numerous lifesaving rescues he carried out with his helicopter, he pulled 34 soldiers from a swollen stream and American pilots who had been shot down in dangerous territory.
“The pilots would eject with the parachutes and survive but were banged up by the time I reached them.”
It was in Korea in 1952 when Kummer got the surprise of a lifetime. He delivered an Army surgeon to the front lines, but learned that same doctor had delivered him into the world 27 years prior.
“He was just floored. So were the generals nearby when we met,” Kummer said. “To walk up to a bird colonel when I was a lieutenant and say, ‘Hi doctor,’ That was kind of fun. So I took extra care of the doc because I didn’t want to bust him up for sure.”
After his service, he went to UCLA and later worked at a Minnesota college prep school and volunteers at Luke Air Force Base helping other retirees. He loves his life.
“It’s been interesting,” he said. “I married a girl from Hawaii. It’s been great and thank goodness my health has held up.”
Despite his record, Kummer called the decision to name him as a grand marshal for the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade a surprise.
“There are many thousands of veterans around here and you can take your pick and choose,” he said. “I’m humbled and very much surprised.”
Kummer said he was told he was selected as a grand marshal by his daughter.
“I had no warning whatsoever, and then they sprung it on me at a birthday party, and I thought ‘That little turkey.'”
KTAR will honor each grand marshal of the upcoming Veterans Day parade during our Profiles in Courage series.
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