Francis Bernard Munski
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|HOME OF RECORD:
|NEXT OF KIN:
Mother, Mrs. Stephania “Fannie” Munski
|DATE OF BIRTH:
4/14/1942 – 10/17/1945
|DATE OF DEATH:
|Iwo Jima||Rear Echelon||Corpsman||PhM1c|
Legion of Merit
|LAST KNOWN RANK:
Pharmacist’s Mate, First Class
Francis Munski was born in June, 1907. His parents, Adam and Fannie, were Polish immigrants who made a life for themselves and their large family – there would eventually be twelve Munski children – at the gold mining camp of Kendall, Montana. As a miner, Adam pulled in $3 per day until the metal ran out the big Barnes-King mine folded in 1920 and “schools, store and shops went over like a stack of dominoes.”(1) As the town began to decline, the Munskis left their home of thirteen years and moved to Lewistown. By the time of Adam’s death in 1932 after years of poor health, several of the older boys had already found employment, mostly as laborers in the farms, ranches, and brickyards of Fergus County.
The Munski children followed very different paths in the decade leading up to World War II. Many of them studied at Fergus high school, and several did well; Frank himself graduated and went to work for a cement works in Lewistown. One of his brothers, “Lonesome” John Munski, earned a scholarship to the University of Missouri where he won fame as a distance runner; two others spent some time in the state prison. When war did come, however, the Munskis found some common ground. Five of the six boys – Frank, Joe, Stan, Walt, and John – wound up in the service.
Frank joined the Navy on 14 April 1942, and after completing his boot camp training as an apprentice seaman was chosen to attend hospital corpsman’s school. Few records are readily available to detail his first year in uniform, but in early 1943 he was detailed to Medical Field Service School at Camp Elliott, California, to train for service with the Fleet Marine Force. Munski completed this phase of training on 26 April 1943, and joined the Fourth Medical Battalion, 24th Marines as a pharmacist’s mate third class. On 7 May, he was assigned to the First Battalion, 24th Marines as a corpsman.
“Doc” Munski was nearly thirty-six when he joined 1/24; he was the oldest man in the medical detachment by a considerable margin. Even his boss, Lt. (j.g.) Francis J. Shiring, was younger by more than three years. His relatively advanced age gave Munski an air of authority over the young Marines he treated, and his promotion to pharmacist’s mate second class on 1 July 1943 further bespoke his abilities.
The summer, fall, and winter of 1943 were spent in training at Camp Pendleton, California. The battalion’s medical section underwent a series of structural changes, including the arrival of two new surgeons. The core of petty officers remained largely unchanged, however, and Munski would have been comfortable with familiar faces like William Baker, Alex Grady, Jacob Gottlieb, Carl Zaar, Alfonso Guerra, Virgil Deets, Vermoine Klauss, Eloy Manzanares, and the senior corpsman, Winston Blevins. Munski also knew several hundred Marines by face, by name, or by recurring ailment; he was likely assigned to Company “D” as a platoon corpsman and treated scrapes, sprains, and other routine injuries incurred during hikes and exercises.(2)
On 11 January 1944, Doc Munski carried his medical bags, personal gear, and weapon aboard the transport USS DuPage; two days later, he was sailing out across the Pacific. He would see his first action, and treat his first battle casualties, on Namur in the Marshall Islands during a short but bitter fight in early February. None of the corpsmen were wounded in the fighting for Namur, and casualties in the battalion were comparatively light, but in an organization that had trained together for so long, every one hit home.
Following the conquest of the Marshall Islands, the 4th Marine Division sailed for Hawaii to rest and re-train at Camp Maui. Their next objective was Saipan in the Mariana Islands, and it would prove to be a far more difficult fight. Starting from his first day ashore, 15 June 1944, Doc Munski had dozens of opportunities to demonstrate his abilities.
PFC John C. Pope recalled seeing Munski in action. A single Japanese machine gun was holding up a group of Marines, and one of Pope’s buddies was “playing cowboy” – seeing if the enemy gunners would take a shot at a helmet raised on a rifle muzzle. When word came to rush the house, Pope’s buddy made the mistake of standing straight up. “A bullet hit him in the chest,” said Pope. “He collapsed and fell across me. I instinctively reached around him and put my hand in a hole in his chest. The blood was surprisingly warm and sticky. It was my first time to have a handful of blood.
“Munski, our corpsman, got to him immediately and began to work on him. I thought he was hopeless. Munski later said [the wounded man] was one of those people with his heart located just far enough out of place to be missed completely. And the bullet did not do the damage it would have done otherwise.”(3)
Another incident attracted the attention of Munski’s superior officers. At one point during the fighting on Saipan, the corpsman found himself with a group of Marines who were cut off from the battalion aid station. Munski established his own forward aid station, treated dozens of wounded men, and supervised the successful evacuation of many more. By some counts, he was responsible for saving some 57 lives.(4) When his battalion returned to Maui after the successful battle of Tinian, Munski was informed of his promotion to pharmacist’s mate first class. One week later, on 22 August 1944, he was officially recommended for the Silver Star medal in recognition for his gallantry in action.
Two notable incidents dampened the corpsman’s spirits. On 1 September, he was admitted to a Navy hospital – probably the effects of weeks of campaigning in the Marianas – and was off his feet for nearly three weeks. A few days after returning to duty, he received bad news from home. His mother Fannie, who found local fame as the mother who sent so many sons off to war, died at the age of 64.
The fall and winter of 1944 were taken up with intensive training and equally intensive “liberties” taken in the cafes, bars, and dance halls of Maui. Occasionally, they could get over to the “Big Island” to hit the town of Honolulu and, potentially, sample a newly created drink called a “Mai Tai” at Trader Vic’s. There was likely some celebration at the corpsmen’s quarters on 21 December 1944: Munski was presented with the Legion of Merit for his service on Saipan.
A few days after receiving his medal, Munski watched as his buddies packed and readied for combat. They headed down the now familiar road to Kahului, and the ships that would take them out to sea. This time, Frank Munski would not go with them. He was assigned to the battalion’s rear echelon as senior corpsman; he and another veteran, PhM2c William G. Edwards, would run the dispensary and sick bay while the rest of the battalion fought on Iwo Jima. Only half of their buddies would return from Iwo alive and unwounded; the rest were forever changed by their experiences.
Doc Munski remained on duty with 1/24 through the summer of 1945. On 12 August, almost all of the battalion’s senior corpsmen – Munski, Dodd, Klauss, Baker, Edwards, Hearn, Swartz, and more – were transferred en masse to the headquarters of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. It is likely that they were intended for furloughs back in the States, followed by a post at a training camp or specialist school. However, the end of the war quickly changed those plans, and most were quickly discharged. Munski departed the service on 17 October 1945; fortunately, all of his brothers survived the war as well.
With his Navy career behind him, Frank Munski returned to Montana and reestablished himself in Lewistown. He found a job with Lewistown Brick and Tile for a few years, working with his older brothers Leslie and William; later in life, he was employed by the Fergus County Creamery, the Lewistown Eagle’s bowling alley, and the Snow White Cafe. Although most of his siblings married and raised families, Frank himself remained a bachelor.
In 1972, Frank declared himself retired; in 1984, he moved to Whitefish, Montana, to live near his brother Walter.
He died of kidney failure on 8 August 1989, at the age of 82. After a brief memorial service at Sunset Memorial Gardens, his ashes were scattered in an unknown location.
(1) Bert Lindler, “Stan Munski: gem of a most brazen, old cowboy,” The Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, MT) 22 October 1978, 13.
(2) Battalion muster rolls are not clear about which corpsman served with which company. However, Munski was well-known to former D Company Marine John C. Pope (who referred to him as “our Corpsman”) and appears in photographs treating members of the 81mm mortar section.
(3) John C. Pope, Angel On My Shoulder. Pope said that the wounded Marine on Saipan was PFC Harold Bowman of C/1/24, however Bowman was wounded in action on 3 August 1944 during the battle for Tinian. Bowman would return to action only to be shot again on Iwo Jima – that time in the left chest. Since Munski did not fight on Iwo Jima, it is not clear if Pope has confused the identities of one or more of the men in this story. (It should also be noted that Pope believed Munski was killed in action on Iwo.)
(4) “Mate Francis Munski, Member Of Family Which Sent Six Brothers To War, Decorated With Legion Of Merit,” The Independent Record (Helena, MT) 14 January 1945, 7.