Iowa pilot killed in Korean War finally gets his military funeral

Robert Krumm shot down in 1951, pronounced dead in 1954

  • Photo

Though most of Capt. Robert Krumm’s nieces and nephews know him only through photographs, newspaper clippings and old stories, they say he’s become a hero to them.

Now, they’re giving the Korean War veteran — who went missing in action in 1951 — the memorial service he never received.

Krumm, a bomber pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps — now the U.S. Air Force — went missing in October 1951 but wasn’t presumed dead until February 1954. Though Krumm has had a plaque at Cedar Memorial Cemetery in Cedar Rapids for decades, a proper military service was never held to honor the fallen soldier, who hailed from Van Horne in Benton County.

That all changes at 10 a.m. Saturday, as members of Krumm’s family are joined by military personnel for a service at Cedar Memorial, 4200 First Ave. SE.

Mary Kay McGrath, Krumm’s niece, helped plan the event, something she had promised Krumm’s widow, Sally.

“My uncle’s widow told me years ago that they’d never had a service for him,” McGrath said. “She said she always felt bad. I had told her before she died, ‘You know what? I’ll plan that.’ She died a few years later.”

Krumm was well liked by everyone in his hometown, said Krumm’s only surviving sibling, Dorothy Gaines, 89, of Mount Pleasant. Krumm had another sister, Ilene, and three brothers, Donald, Edmond and Casey. Donald and Edmond also were pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Though Krumm and Sally never had children together, Sally was always a part of the Krumm family, McGrath said.

Krumm’s family members say he was known for being a bit of a prankster. One time, he and his brothers planned to go sky diving. Instead of jumping out the plane themselves, they pushed a dummy out the door, intending for it to appear as if a person was falling without a parachute. Their plan was foiled when the sheet attached to the dummy allowed it to drift peacefully to the ground. Another time, they hung a dummy from the Van Horne water tower, and since no one else wanted to scale the structure to retrieve it, the city paid the Krumm boys to climb back up and cut the dummy loose.

The family has preserved many black and white photos that show Krumm during his days in the military, including one of him wearing a thick leather jacket with large, white lapels. They’ve also taken great care in displaying his medals, including the Purple Heart, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a World War II Victory Medal and an Air Medal.

Before Korea, Krumm flew bomber missions during World War II and his plane, the Flak Dodger, was shot down and he and crew members ended up in Sweden for a time.

Krumm later became a flight instructor and operated his own crop-dusting business.

Since an average 220 members of the U.S. military members died each day during World War II, according to reports, and about 43,000 planes went missing and Krumm had already been shot down once, his nephew, Tom Novak, 65, finds it surprising that Krumm chose to fly B-29A bombers during the Korean War when he was in his early 30s.

In October 1951, Krumm and other members of the 371st Bomber Squadron — part of the 307th Bombardment Wing — were shot down over the Namsi Airfield in what became known as Black Tuesday Over Namsi. Krumm was declared missing in action. McGrath said the family had spoken of the possibility that Krumm could have been a prisoner of war. Three in Krumm’s wing survived as POWs, according to the Korean War Project, which identifies and tracks members of the military who served in the Korean War.

In February 1954, Krumm was presumed dead. But since his brother Donald had been killed in a bomber plane training accident in California, his nieces and nephews said Krumm’s parents, Jacob and Grace Krumm, didn’t feel strong enough to hold a ceremony for a second son.

“I just don’t think that they were ready for that at the time,” McGrath said. “I think they were expecting him to come home or to find the remains.”

Jacob and Grace Krumm didn’t talk much about their lost sons.

“That generation, nobody shared. This generation, everybody shares,” Novak said.

McGrath said her mother, Ilene — Krumm’s sister — shared stories of her brothers.

“Mother kept these boys alive,” McGrath said. “We always knew about them, we’ve all had pictures of them hanging in our house. They’ve just been her heroes.”

Now, they are heroes to the rest of the family.

Novak, McGrath, their three other siblings and other cousins have been on a mission to learn their uncle’s history and honor his memory by collecting stories, verifying facts and holding a service.

“Sometimes it takes decades for families to wrap their heads around the losses in their family,” said Ted Barker, who helps run the Korean War Project.

Saturday’s service should provide closure, said McGrath’s sister, Janet Kleopfer.

“It’s funny how we kept it alive for so long and now our children are so interested in it,” she said. “He deserves some recognition.”

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.