ROCK HILL, S.C. – It’s been three-quarters of a century since Tom Funderburk dropped bombs over France on German encampments during World War II. The 94-year-old former Air Force pilot now lives in Rock Hill, where he got an extremely high honor Friday afternoon.
U.S. Congressman Ralph Norman presented Funderburk with the highest military honor given by the French government.
He was awarded the French Legion of Honor for his heroism in World War II. Funderburk flew b-17 bombers. One time a flare went off inside the plane on a bombing mission, the whole plane filled with smoke and everyone was about to bail out over enemy territory.
They were afraid they’d already been hit with anti-aircraft fire. Funderburk yelled “Wait!” and the smoke soon cleared allowing the plane to land and avoid capture.
He also flew 31 French POWs home to Paris. His response to the honor, was to remember friends, who didn’t come home.
“It feels great, but some others who deserve it aren’t here to receive it,” Funderburk said.
He received the honor as hundreds of friends and three generations of his family watched including his three sons, and grandson Phillip, who came down from Raleigh.
“My heart is just full of pride, and I couldn’t be happier,” Phillip said.
His grandson heard the war stories growing up, but seeing him honored this way, and his name and achievement now part of the congressional record. It’s a reminder that freedom comes at a cost.
“A lot of his friends passed away, giving the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. I think it’s really important to recognize that,” Phillip said.
While speaking to a capacity crowd at Westminster Towers in Rock Hill, Funderburk told an amazing story.
His missions in that b-17 weren’t always about dropping bombs. He flew several humanitarian missions as well.
He dropped food from that bomber to starving people in Holland during the war. One of the people who picked up that food was a 12-year-old girl. Incredibly, both of them now live in Rock Hill, and met each other after the war.