The Mundling Zone

Thoughts, rants, and raves from the desk of Michelle Mundling

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Life of Lucky

In Memory of Linder Jeffereson Mundling
February 4, 1925 - May 2, 2007

In Memory of Dad

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With gratitude to my sister Pamela for her contribution to this tribute

Born: Sarah Mississippi
Parents: Linder Mitchell Mundling, Farmer, Blacksmith, Hunter, and Jack of Many other Trades
Alice Pierce Mundling, Stay at home Mom, Farmers wife, never seen sleeping, and although only 5 foot tall, all five of her boys addressed her as “Ma’am” and knew better than to talk back to her.

Family moved to Memphis Tennessee when daddy was in Grade School, they took their chickens with them to the big city. Daddy worked many odd jobs growing up, didn’t matter that he was just a kid.

Daddy learned at an early age how to use firearms and nothing was to go to waste. When his father sent him to go hunting for squirrel with a shotgun and three bullets, if Daddy came back with one squirrel, he’d better have two bullets left.

When Daddy was in High School, his father died. Daddy dropped out of school to work full time to support his widowed mother and kid brother. His three older brothers all had young families of their own to support.

In 1942 Daddy was drafted into the Navy and went off to Boot Camp and Gunnery School in Bainbridge Maryland. His job during that War was Lead Gunner on Merchant vessels supporting the war effort. He learned to sleep in his clothes because submarines liked to attack at night, and in the North Atlantic you wanted to be dressed warm when General Quarters was sounded.

He began to think that the arm of God was around him as he was beginning his first assignment out of New York Harbor. Him and another gunner switched assignments, so they could crew with their friends…as the ship Daddy was originally assigned to was leaving New York they were torpedoed by a German U-Boat and went down with all hands.

Later in the war, the convoy Daddy’s ship was in was attacked. The ship behind them was torpedoed, they thought they were next…then the ship ahead of them was torpedoed, they knew they were next…then the U-Boat simply left the rest of the convoy alone. None of the ships daddy was on ever suffered a torpedo hit, nor were any of them bombed by an enemy plane. Daddy took out the planes as they made their strafing runs.

After the war, Daddy was discharged and went home to Tennessee. His Mother had to sign for him to work a job out of state because he was under 21 years of age. After a few months, he realized that he missed the Navy life and re-enlisted. He did “odd jobs” in the Navy for several years before applying to become an Aircraft Mechanic. He began that career on Rotary Fixed Wing Aircraft, aka: props.

Next to a battlefield where people are shooting at you, the deck of an aircraft carrier is probably the most dangerous place on earth. Even though the ship is huge, ocean waves toss them about without much effort. Add to that a few dozen aircraft being launched or recovered and you have a recipe for disaster. Aircraft being prepared to launch is tied down with thick braided steel cable at several points until it is given permission to taxi and take flight. One day as the ship was launching aircraft a wave caused the ship to take a significant roll, a plane that was powered up broke its tie-downs and was thrown several feet. It “landed”, with its propellers turning at just under take off speed near Daddy. His back was against the wall of the ships “island” and the propeller was turning rapidly about one inch from his chest, any movement he might try to make would likely kill him. Four men ran over and moved the plane manually away from Daddy, saving him from a rather gruesome death. The next day these same four men attempted to move this same aircraft and could not budge it a single inch.

Once in a while the Navy would let Daddy have some time off. In Jacksonville Florida on 4 December 1955 he popped into an establishment on his way back to the Base for a cold refreshing adult beverage (Budweiser). A young lady from the Okefenokee Swamp was visiting her Aunt and Uncle who were stationed in Jacksonville…they were also out at the same establishment enjoying cool refreshing adult beverages (Schlitz). The young lady saw the young man walk in, was immediately smitten and wanted to meet him. Her Uncle Stan sort of knew him since he had recently checked into his squadron. Finally an introduction was made between Lynette Highsmith and “Lin” Mundling by Aunt Martha and Uncle Stan.

Ironically, Daddy had been married twice before and had gone through his second divorce; he had no intentions on getting involved in another relationship, much less married. However, on that fateful night, the two of them hit it off. They agreed to see each other again the next day.

By the third day, he asked for her hand in marriage.

Her response was, “What took you so long?”

Six weeks later this innocent sailor joined the Highsmith Clan and his life hasn’t been the same since.

Daddy was able to see potential where others couldn’t. He knew that as reliable as “props” had been that the future of aviation was in jet aircraft. He applied to switch over and everyone up his chain of command made the same statement: “Mundling, this is going to ruin your career”.

Strangely enough, this young, tenth grade drop out was right and the educated experienced leadership was mistaken. As one of the first jet mechanics in the Navy Daddy was not only on the leading edge but as he advanced was part of the edge. In the early 70’s the Navy was introducing a revolutionary new Jet Aircraft, the F-14 Tomcat. No existing squadron had the experience to fly or maintain it so they had to develop a squadron from the ground up. They knew they would need an outside the box thinker to not only head up maintenance but develop the actual maintenance program for the plane. The man chosen would have to determine in advance of working with the aircraft: the number of personnel required to maintain the plane and exactly what specialties and experience levels would be needed.

They chose the older more experienced tenth grade drop out: Aviation Maintenance man, Master Chief Linder J. Mundling. The F-14 was in service for over thirty years and the only real modifications to the squadron maintenance personnel and schedules where due to technological advances. The infrastructure set in place by this high school drop out remained throughout the life of the aircraft.

Eventually, congress decided that enlisted folks shouldn’t stay more than thirty years and threatened to begin decreasing my father’s pension if he didn’t retire. At the age of 49 with 32 years of service, having defended his country during three wars, WW-II, Korea, Vietnam, and some uneasy peace times, the Aviation Maintenance man Master Chief entered dry-dock and got to learn how to be a civilian father to his two daughters, one a teenager and the other still a human being. (I’ll let you figure out which one of us was which).

Mama and Daddy had purchased some land in Colorado for when he retired but an insight during the winter weather reports brought them to reality before the family could move … something about sub-zero temperatures and snow. They decided to move to a warmer place and ended up in Mom’s hometown of Waycross. This gave Michelle, who had spent the majority of her short life in San Diego the chance to get to know the family. They weren’t worried about the teenager since she was planning to begin her Navy adventure soon anyway.

After the family moved to Waycross 14 July 1975, Dad had been invited by some of the local men folk to participate in various turkey shoots. Little did they know how well of a crack shot Dad was. Needless to say his reputation spread quickly after winning several shoots in a row, and he wasn’t encouraged to participate so much.

Dad’s work ethic carried over into his “retirement years.” He became a self-employed road escort hired by companies needing to transfer mobile homes, boats, and other large items to various states in the country. Although he never kept a running total of how many miles he had driven, it’s been estimated to have been nearly one million miles. During this time, he purchased a Mercury Lynx (Mercury’s version of the Ford Escort) with a diesel engine. He had no idea how long the car would last. However, it managed to accrue over 750,000 miles before the engine blew, creating a hole in the engine block the size of his fist.

When Dad didn’t feel like being on the road anymore, he devoted himself to volunteer work. He had been a member of the American Legion and founded the Fleet Reserve Association local branch 236, in which he served as president for a few years. Later, he joined the Ware County Exchange Club. He enjoyed doing things like giving ice cream to children at Laura Walker park, helping out ringing the bell for the Salvation Army during the Chirstmas season, and attending Freedom Shrine dedications at various local schools. One of his biggest contributions was during the annual Fair in which the club would run their concession stand. His experience running a maintenance shop during his military career enabled him to reorganize how the concession stand operated, making it work more efficiently and therefore increase sales. During his membership, he served as president a couple of times and won the Exchangite of the Year award, not once but twice.

We always marveled how creative Dad was with tools. He could take scrap building materials and make something useable from them. When I was a child, he made me a well-built bunk bed for my dolls. I enjoyed playing with it, and I discovered our puppy Snoopy liked to sleep on the bottom bed during the night. He also made me a rocking horse using an old saw horse. It was solid wood and lasted me several years until I wore it out. As an adult, I have witnessed his ability to create nice-looking shelf units that are still functional, even after 25 years of use. The most extraordinary use of spare building materials would have to be the laundry cart he made out of nothing but pvc pipe and wheels. However, I’d have to say his masterpiece could be found in the master bedroom bathroom. I had come down for a visit and commented on Mom’s new cabinets and mirror with frame in that bathroom and asked who they hired to do the work. I was floored when she told me that Dad did all the work: the creation and installation.

Dad was never the kind to back down from a challenge. Even as his health declined, he’d find clever ways to adapt so he could still lead an active and full life. His motto was, “If I rest, I’ll rust. I feel better when I’m working.”

His biggest challenge would be cancer.

In June 1996, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Right away, he knew he wanted to fight, so he had surgery to remove it. The surgery went so well, he didn’t need chemo treatments. After five years, he was declared cancer free.

In November 2004, he was diagnosed with cancer again, but it was a different colon cancer. Determined to fight it again, he had surgery December 2004. To the dismay of the surgeon, the cancer had spread from the colon to the liver, and the cancer in his liver was inoperable. The surgeon removed as much of the cancer as he could. There was no question in Dad’s mind what he wanted to do: he was going to fight the liver cancer. His oncologist told him that he could receive chemo treatments to buy him more time, but it would not be a cure. Dad was undaunted; he was determined to prove the doctor wrong. In many ways, he did. Dad lived two years after his fatal diagnosis, but he still had a good quality of life that he could enjoy. It enabled him to care for his ailing wife and spend time with his two daughters.

It was his will to live, his determination to get out of bed every day, and his positive outlook that enabled Dad to live as long as he did and as well as he did.

This is some of the formal stuff on Daddy. Some of the personal things that made him special to us:

We always knew he loved us and was proud of us as long as we gave my best effort, even if the outcome was less than successful.

Good grades were fine, but the question was, did we learn anything?

Do what you enjoy to the best of your ability and you will be successful.

Do the best you can do in what you don’t like until you can do what you enjoy.

He’s the one that we liked teaching us how to drive because we could make the little mistakes and learn from them … and it was ok to make little mistakes.

It was ok to splurge once in a while as long as all the bills were paid.

It was good to have fun when you were doing stuff.