Museum gets donation from Engineer hero
June 5, 2014
A new collection of World War II memorabilia is now on display in the John B. Mahaffey Museum -- thanks to a generous donation from Lt. Col. Orville "Bill" Munson's Family.
"In the museum world we are always looking for ways to tell a big story with a small artifact. Medals are a great way of accomplishing this," said Troy Morgan, U.S. Army Engineer Museum, director.
During the Munson Family's visit to Fort Leonard Wood, May 30, they donated a shadow box filled with the renowned engineer's medals, which include a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star and several Purple Hearts.
Munson passed away from cancer in 2012. His son, Curt Munson, said his dad's legacy would live on through the donation.
"They have been hanging on a wall for the last 20 years or so. This is an opportunity for us to share what we got to see every day of his life. He valued his Soldiers so much more than having these awards hanging on the wall someplace," Curt Munson said.
He said he hopes the medals will give museum patrons a glimpse into his dad's life -- one of personal courage and integrity.
"It think that everybody thinks their dad is 10-feet tall when they are a kid, but it's not given to everybody to have a 10-foot tall dad in their 50s. That's what we had," Curt Munson said. "When you listened to him he talk about others he sung the praises of the Soldiers in his unit. When you typically hear Soldiers tell war stories they are embellished bigger than they were. Dad's stories were always bigger than he told."
He enlisted into the U. S. Army in 1941 and in early 1942 was ordered to Engineer Officer Candidate School, Fort Belvoir, Va., and graduated a second lieutenant in July 1942. In 1943, his unit was ordered to Africa and later fought in Italy and France. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and fought on to Germany.
Munson in World War II
During the first week of January 1944, the 48th Engineer Battalion struggled to convert a severely damaged railroad into a highway, in support of operations to capture Mount Porchia, Italy. For several days, the Engineers worked on the highway during the day, then were placed into the line as infantry each night.
On the night of January 6th, the 48th Engineer Battalion was directed to capture Mount Porchia. Munson, commander of Company A, led his company across several miles of 'no-man's-land' and through the battle to capture the hill.
For his actions that night, Munson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
His citation reads: "1st Lt. Munson led his company in darkness through mined and shelled areas to the foot of Mt. Porchia, Italy. He acted as point of the column and was often far in advance and alone in enemy territory. He encountered two enemy machine gun nests from which he drew fire, but he extricated his company by leading his men in a circular path around the enemy positions. During this action, he killed one German at close range with his submachine gun. Later, he encountered an enemy patrol and was captured. With a gun at his back, he shouted a warning to his men and prevented their walking into an ambush. At this time, a hand grenade exploded nearby, a fragment striking 1st Lt. Munson in the shoulder. He fell to the ground and feigned death. His captors took his submachine gun and left the area. 1st Lt. Munson rose, picked up a carbine and captured two prisoners before returning to his company. The courage displayed by 1st Lt. Munson prevented the ambush of his company and also enabled his men to capture six of the enemy patrol."
In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross earned on Mount Porchia, Munson earned a Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals and four Purple Heart Medals.
"The medals will be removed from the shadow box. The medals will be displayed in the Displaying Army Values exhibit starting June 2. We are currently doing a 900 square foot expansion to the museum, which will expand the World War II to Vietnam galleries. An exhibit case will be added to the World War II area, which covers Engineers fighting as infantry. The colors of the Army Corps of Engineer are scarlet and white. The white represents the secondary mission of our Combat Engineers to fight as infantry. The Battle for Mount Porchia will be the centerpiece of the new exhibit case," Morgan said.
"As a Soldier, an engineer, and a human being, Munson is a superb case study in the Seven Army Values. We will use the deeds of Lt. Col. Munson to inspire today's engineers to be all that they can be," he added.