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James Kunkle Sr. was Santa Ynez Valley pilot and a World War II veteran, his love, and dedication to his field of the job made a mark in history. When he was flying during World War II, there were no ejection seats in the planes. He was flying a combat airplane and got hit by the enemy when his plane was going down Kunkle bravely climbed out of his plane, jumped, and then opened his parachute. “I talk to these young pilots who just press a button nowadays, and they can’t imagine having to climb out of their planes,” Kunkle said.
According to Noozhawk, “Kunkle was honored as the grand marshal for the Fourth of July Parade on Independence Day 2017.” Kunkle believes that becoming a pilot and being around airplanes has shaped his life, and for more than 90 years of his life, he has always wanted to be a fighter pilot. “Planes were a remarkable thing when I was a young kid. I remember being awed when we were listening to the tales of Charles Lindberg’s flight across the Atlantic Ocean in that rickety plane of his. The days of flying were newer then, and people would dress up to be on an airplane,” Kunkle said.
Kunkle is originally from Pennsylvania, but he and his mother moved to West Hollywood after his father died. Whenever Kunkle was a junior in Beverly Hills High School, Europe became engaged in World War II. “I knew we would be getting involved, and I thought if I wanted to fly, I better get some experience. I joined the National Guard and worked at the airport,” Kunkle said. Kunkle got a job at North American Aviation in April 1941, building planes. Then he finally went to Lockheed, where he was an inspector and spent most of his time flying.
After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government lowered the age and education limits for enlisting, because they needed more people to sign up. So Kunkle was excited and thought that finally, he could fulfill his dream in becoming a fighter pilot. “I got my dream fulfilled to become a fighter pilot and was sent to London. I respect my fellow aviators from England and Canada and South Africa that came to fight,” Kunkle said. He was assigned to help protect the troops from the air, and attacking any moving objects to cut off supplies to the enemies. Before getting hit by the enemy protecting his fellow pilots in World War II, he was able to hit two enemy aircraft. After Kunkle was shot down, treated for his burns and released from the hospital, he was flown to Portland, Oregon, where he helped to test the latest flight equipment and was preparing to go back to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped, which ended the war. “When the war ended, I spent more time in the military, flying some of our first jets, and I wanted to stay on active duty. It was amazing to be able to fly the P-84 Thunder Jet, and when I finally got out of the military in 1948, I went back to the family business of selling shelf paper,” Kunkle said.
Kunkle and his wife Ruth met at work and fell in love, as both of them are pilots. “We just love flying together. This airport is our second home. What better way to spend our retirement than flying at the best little airport?” Ruth said.
I am inspired by Kunkle as he has achieved a lot and made his dream come true. I have always been interested in hands-on work rather than sitting behind a desk all day, and aviation is a perfect match for me.
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