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Kunkel, Norman Clyde

Kunkel, Norman Clyde Courtesy of The Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs
  • When: WWII
  • Where: Italy, India-Burma
  • Category of People: WWII Driver
  • Last Name: Kunkel
  • Given Name(s): Norman Clyde
  • Born: September 17, 1918
  • Died: April 2, 2009
  • Unit (WWII): IB 5; CM 92-T
  • Home (at time of Enlistment in WWII): Yakima, Wash.
  • Education: Yakima H.S.; Univ. of Washington

Norman Clyde Kunkel was born on September 17, 1918, in Wessington, South Dakota, to Joseph Edwin Kunkel and Winnifred Blanche Wright. He attended Yakima High School in Yakima, South Dakota, and entered the University of Washington in the summer of 1942, when he also worked as a pipe fitter at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp.

Kunkel tried enlisting for the war effort with the U.S. military, but was rejected due to an elbow injury from childhood. Instead, he volunteered to be an ambulance driver with the American Field Service (AFS) in June 1943 and departed from San Pedro, California, a month later for Poona, India (now known as Pune) with unit IB 5. Kunkel arrived at Poona on October 17, 1943, and served alongside the British military in India and Burma, carrying casualties to Advanced Dressing Stations through the jungles and mountains of India and Burma. He also served near the United States 5th Army in Italy, aiding civilians from late 1944 until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945. As a member of “C” Platoon of the AFS 567 Company he helped evacuate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in the final months of the war. He returned to the United States in August 1945 and received the 1939-1945 Star, Burma Star, Italy Star, and France-Germany Star for his service during World War II.

Before going overseas with AFS in 1943, Kunkel met Georgie Bright, with whom he exchanged letters during the war. Georgie awaited Kunkel’s return, and following the war they married and had three children. Kunkel returned to the University of Washington and received a B.A. in education in 1954. He became teacher at Gregory Heights School in the Highline School District, south of Seattle, Washington. He spoke out about war and the Holocaust, attended the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. in 1993, and was honored as a liberator at the Arlington National Cemetery Amphitheater. Kunkel’s involvement with AFS continued in the post-war years when he volunteered to be a guest speaker at the AFS Brazil General Assembly in Bitoria, Brazil, in September 2000. Norman and Georgie Kunkel also co-wrote a book about his experiences during the war, entitled WWII Liberator’s Life: AFS Ambulance Driver Chooses Peace (Bright Kunkel Books, 2006.)

Norman Clyde Kunkel passed away on April 2, 2009, at age 91, at his home in Seattle, Washington.