The Fighting Funderburgs

Eight Oklahoma brothers served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Coming from humble roots in Wilburton, the brothers just wanted to repay their parents and make them proud. Serving their country is how they chose to do that.
by Adam Kemp Published: November 10, 2013

Distraught, Bennie left the hospital immediately to find out the truth.

While trying to make his way to James, he found his brother returning to base. He ran full out in his hospital gown, tears in his eyes, thankful his brother was alive.

“I heard you got killed, and I came to check on you,” Bennie said. “I had to know what to say to Mother and Father and tell them what happened.”

With his backside exposed to the world through the opening of a hospital gown, Bennie stood hugging his brother without shame.

Remembering Floyd

Six of the boys served during World War II, three served during the Korean War. James and OC continued to serve through the Vietnam War.

Try as the brothers might to look after one another, death and war are two inseparable friends.

On Nov. 12, 1943, Floyd Funderburg, who fought in the China Burma India Theater, was returning from a successful bomb run where his plane had flown near the Burma Road.

Flying back out of New Delhi, they were attacked by a dozen or more Japanese Zero fighter planes.

“An eyewitness account said their plane got hit and crashed and exploded into a million pieces,” James said. “They listed him as Missing In Action for more than a year, and that gave us some hope.”

Stationed together in the South Pacific, James and Bennie said they didn't have much time to grieve for their brother since they were fighting battles of their own.

But back home in Wilburton, Stanley remembers the effect it had on his family.

“I was 10 when the war started, and at that time all you did was draw airplanes and shoot Japanese planes down when you were playing,” he said. “We had hope for a long time that he would be found but I remember it being so hard on Mom and Dad. Losing one and having others deployed was incredibly difficult. It was a very trying time with four kids at home and five away at war.”

James said having Bennie with him was an added comfort most soldiers didn't have, but he also lived for the letters from home, especially when they had a special note from one of the younger kids.

Back in Wilburton before the threat of war ever made its way into the small town of about 2,000, the older Funderburg boys loved to play tricks on little Stanley like any older brothers would.

Bennie would tell him to climb a tree only to run away and leave him at the top, James would grab onto his wrist and tell him he would never see his mother or father again, and all of them made him sleep at the bottom of pile when going to bed so he'd have to smell everyone's stinky feet.

“I had a master's degree in psychology by the age of 12,” Stanley said. “Ever trick in the book I had played on me, but it made me tough and I always knew they had my back if anything ever went south.”

So when Stanley would scribble a message at the bottom of his mother's letters to his brothers, it was usually the highlight for the men.

“The thing that kept me going during that time with Floyd was the letters I got from home,” James said as his voice begins to crack. “The little notes in there from the younger kids would always crack you up especially knowing Stanley and how we would play tricks on him. But to get a little comment from him ... it was special.”

Continued service

For the next 35 years, a Funderburg would be serving the U.S. as James continued to serve through all three wars, eventually rising to and retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Stanley was stationed in Germany and served with his brother, Jack, under the orders of their brother, Charles, during the Korean War.

Lewis, Bennie and Charles went on to careers in oil and gas, OC retired from the Air Force after a 30-year career, Jack retired as the high school principal in Hennessey, and Stanley wound up coaching football, track and teaching at various high schools in the state.

Norma Jean, Stanley, Jack, Bennie and James are still living today, with all but Bennie still living in the state.

Their time serving in the military are some of the moments they still remember the most fondly, the camaraderie between their fellow soldiers from across the U.S., and the celebration they received when they returned home are memories they think about most.

James said he'll never forget the pride in his dad's voice when he would show off his sons in uniform on main street in Wilburton.

“Dad didn't know much about how the military worked,” he said. “But he was always beaming when he was able to show us off to others. To tell them that these are my sons, those moments are ones I'll never forget.”

Now when Stanley watches a soldier homecoming, he thinks about the massive celebrations he and his brothers received when returning from the service.

“People were dancing in the streets when the war was over,” he said. “That touches the very soul of what it's all about, the theme of sacrifice, you're talking about human bodies, and it breaks me up when I see these guys leaving or coming home. I want to talk with them; I want to know what their stories are.

“We think of our time as a tribute to our mother and dad, the sacrifices that they made.”

by Adam Kemp
Enterprise Reporter
Adam Kemp is an enterprise reporter and videographer for the Oklahoman and Newsok.com. Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State...
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