WWII hero Don Tunstall laid to rest in Darlington, S.C.
Florence Morning News, S.C.
DARLINGTON, S.C. — World War II hero Don Tunstall was carried on a caisson pulled by two black horses to his final resting spot Friday in Darlington's Grove Hill Cemetery.
Tunstall, 90, died Tuesday. He was buried with full military honors, including the caisson setup, imported from Cooper’s Funeral Home in Dillon, and an honor guard. It was befitting of a man whose tale of service and survival – he lived through having his bomber shot down into the North Sea and stays in several German prisoner of war camps – matches the wildest war movie plot.
“Don Tunstall was proud to be an American,” said the Rev. Sidney Howell, pastor of Latta Southern Methodist Church, during Friday’s ceremony. “He was as patriotic as they come. He even had a POW license plate on his truck.”
Howell delivered the eulogy to Tunstall at Belk Funeral Home. He once worked with Tunstall at the Dixie Cup plant in Darlington, but he didn’t know of Tunstall’s storied background.
“Don was a quiet, humble man who cared deeply about others,” Howell said. “He liked to tinker and could fix just about anything. He grew up in the hard times of the Great Depression. He had a deep appreciation for life. But he’s happy and kicking to be with Jesus now.”
Tunstall forged his parents’ signature to join the Army Air Corps because, “I was afraid the war would be over before I had a chance to serve,” he once said.
And serve he did. He was assigned to a bomber attached to the Army’s 8th Air Force 306 bomb group at England’s Thurleigh Air Field in the fall of 1942. At 115 pounds, he was a perfect fit as a tail gunner.
He got plenty of experience on nine missions before the finale. Although that final, low-level bombing mission was a success, Tunstall noticed his oxygen mask was covered in oil as he reached for it when the bomber gained altitude.
When the B-17 hit 28,000 feet, three engines quit and it dropped like a rock. The crew was ordered to bail out. Tunstall had problems with his chute. When it finally opened, the force was so great that the chest strap ripped his ear and dislocated his shoulder.
He was rescued by a German patrol boat and sent to an interrogation camp in Frankfurt, Germany. One of the German officers who interrogated him found out he was from Darlington. The officer said he had been to Darlington before while attending Furman University where he roomed with Darlington native, the late Laddie Rhodes.
Tunstall ended up at Stalag 17, the last of five POW camps he was interned in, from March 1943 to when he was freed on May 2, 1945. But he said he and 114 other POWs suffered the most at Stalag 3-B. Rashions consisted of watery horse broth and cheese.
“All of us ate the cheese, but went to a dark corner to eat it because we didn’t want to have to see the worms in it,” Tunstall said in an earlier interview.
He and some 5,000 prisoners from Stalag 17 were divided into groups of 500 each in late April 1945 and forced to march for two weeks to escape advancing Russian soldiers. They were stopped in a big forest when an American captain drove up in a jeep and told them they were liberated.