- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Surely, Stanley Dunham was gazing skyward 65 years ago, on D-Day.

Mr. Dunham, the man whom Barack Obama one day would call Gramps, was a 26-year-old supply sergeant stationed near the English Channel with the U.S. Army Air Forces when the invasion of Normandy at last began. Six weeks later, he crossed the channel, too, and followed the Allied front across France. A year later, he was on track to fight in Japan when the atom bomb sent him home instead.

Mr. Dunham, who died 17 years ago, was the Kansas-born grandfather with the outsized personality who helped fill the hole in the future president’s life created by the absence of young Barack’s Kenyan father. Mr. Dunham’s war years have been something of a mystery, the details of dates and places lost with the passage of time. The units in which he served were unknown even to the White House.

Nevertheless, a life-size portrait emerges from interviews and records unearthed by Associated Press. On D-Day, documents place him at Stoney Cross, England, in the 1830th Ordnance Supply and Maintenance Company, Aviation.

“This was the day we had all been waiting for,” then-Sgt. Dunham’s commanding officer wrote the night of June 6 from their base near the English Channel. “Planes by the hundreds took off and landed at our field from dusk until dawn.”

His company supported the 9th Air Force as it prepared for the assault on Normandy and took part in the drive that carried the Allies across France. Sgt. Dunham and the men of the 1830th arrived six weeks after the initial Normandy invasion and followed the front through France, servicing airfields known by numbers — A-2, A-44, A-71, and more — in places such as Brucheville, Cricqueville, St.-Jean-de-Daye, Peray, Clastres, Juvincourt and Saint-Dizier.

Mr. Obama sketches Mr. Dunham as a man with a wild streak early on who settled down to sell furniture and life insurance and eventually raised a daughter with his wife, Madelyn Dunham. Their daughter, Stanley Ann, was Mr. Obama’s mother.

By the time Mr. Dunham joined the Army, he already had lived large.

He had been thrown out of his high school in El Dorado, Kan., for punching the principal in the nose. For three years he had lived off odd jobs, “hopping rail cars to Chicago, then California, then back again, dabbling in moonshine, cards and women,” Mr. Obama wrote in his autobiography, “Dreams From My Father.”

Mr. Dunham also had fallen in love with a woman from the other side of the tracks — the good side — and married her. He eloped with Madelyn Payne just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941, and he was quick to enlist after the Japanese attack.

He was inducted at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on Jan. 15, 1942.

Mr. Dunham spent the first 1½ years of his war service stateside, part of it in the 1802nd Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company, Aviation, at Baer Field in Indiana, now Fort Wayne International Airport. He transferred to the 1830th in March 1943, and the unit shipped out to England on the HMS Mauretania that October.

“All officers and enlisted men alike tumbled out of bunks and hammocks to get the last view of the good old U.S.A. as it disappeared beyond the horizon,” wrote Sgt. Dunham’s commanding officer, 1st Lt. Frederick Maloof in his diary.

The rhythms of life for Stanley Dunham and the men of the 1830th emerge in the weekly unit histories recorded by Lt. Maloof. Men transfer in and out. There is field training. There is a lecture on mines and booby traps, another on “sex morality.” Typhus shots are administered. The company is drilled on the use of the carbine. The men take a three-mile hike and bivouack overnight. Time and again, they move on from one airfield to the next, supporting the front lines.

A number of men went AWOL. Others were charged with drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Sgt. Dunham’s name turns up with surprising frequency, but his conduct generates nothing but praise.

“Sgt. Dunham has been doing a good job as Special Service noncom,” Lt. Maloof took time to report in September 1944.

At Clastres in France, stoves are issued to each tent “as the weather at this base has been very cold.” French classes are offered. At Juvincourt, it is worthy of note when a small shower is installed, heated by a boiler found in the ruins of an old building. “It is the best bathing facilities we have had since coming to France,” the unit’s history states.

In October 1944, as the fighting presses forward, the men attend a compulsory lecture in the 367th Fighter Group area on “What to Expect When Stationed in Germany.”

It turns out Sgt. Dunham could have skipped that one. On April 7, 1945, one week before the 1830th moved on to Germany and three weeks before Hitler committed suicide, Sgt. Dunham was transferred “to the infantry,” the unit’s history shows. Further digging reveals he was assigned to the 12th Reinforcement Depot, based in Tidworth, England, where replacements were being trained for depleted combat units.

The war was winding down in Europe by then, with air superiority achieved and the Luftwaffe not a major threat. Ralph Dunham, Mr. Obama’s great-uncle, says his brother was sent back to the States to prepare for possible transfer to Japan in the infantry. Were it not for V-J Day in August 1945, “he would’ve been fighting in Japan,” Ralph Dunham says.

Sgt. Dunham’s military personnel file was destroyed, along with millions of others, in a 1973 fire at the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.

The AP pieced together Sgt. Dunham’s unit war years from other records at the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama and the St. Louis center and with help from historian David Spires at the University of Colorado. The richest details, however, come from Ralph Dunham and the private papers of Lt. Maloof, who died in 2005. The officer’s granddaughter, Tamara Maloof Ryman of Houston, searched through page after page to pry out details about Sgt. Dunham for AP.

Four months after he transferred out of the 1830th, Sgt. Dunham was discharged from the Army on Aug. 30, 1945, at Fort Leavenworth.

Mr. Obama tells the rest of the story in his autobiography.

“Gramps returned from the war never having seen real combat, and the family headed to California, where he enrolled at Berkeley under the GI Bill,” Mr. Obama wrote. “But the classroom couldn’t contain his ambitions, his restlessness, and so the family moved again, first back to Kansas, then through a series of small Texas towns, then finally to Seattle, where they stayed long enough for my mother to finish high school.”

Wanderlust sent the family on to Hawaii, where Mr. Dunham and his wife would be central figures in the life of their grandson after Mr. Obama’s father left the family. Madelyn Dunham died last year at age 86, two days before Mr. Obama was elected president.

Mr. Dunham, who called his grandson “Bar,” died in 1992 at age 73. His ashes are inurned at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Oahu Island, Hawaii, commonly known as Punchbowl.

“It was a small ceremony with a few of his bridge and golf partners in attendance, a three-gun salute, and a bugle playing taps,” Mr. Obama wrote.

Ralph Dunham is reminded of his brother every time Mr. Obama’s face appears on TV or in the paper.

“You know,” he says, “he looks exactly like Stanley. He looks exactly like my brother, only he’s dark.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide