“Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”
John F. Kennedy
When a country is filled with people that live the quote you see above, then that country can be called great.
I know a man that lived it everyday of his life.
My wife called me at work last week to say that Washington County resident Mr. Hugh L. Grundy had very quietly passed from this world to the next at the age of 95. He is that man.
Do you know who Mr. Grundy is?
It would not be surprising if the answer to that question was no.
He always did fly under the radar screen and maintained such a quiet life with his beautiful wife Frankie for 69 years.
I was honored to meet both of them several times over the past decade. They always treated me with dignity and respect though in reality, I’m a nobody, and they were anything but.
This column cannot tell you everything about Mr. Grundy’s life. That would probably best be done in a book, a very long book. Therefore, I want to tell you some of what I know because it is only right and just that this man be honored for his work in protecting the United States of America at the request of the highest levels of government.
Did that last statement sound like it may be exaggerated?
Those words weren’t mine.
They came from James Glerum, a former Director of Personnel for the Central Intelligence Agency in 2003 when Mr. Grundy was inducted into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame. In addition, legendary aviator General David Lee “Tex” Hill, a triple flying ace in World War II and one of America’s youngest general officers at the age of 30, said he knew Hugh Grundy better then Hugh Grundy knew him. General Hill said no one knew about Mr. Grundy’s great contributions to our country’s defense because of the low profile that he kept in all his official work.
You see, most of Mr. Grundy’s working life was classified as secret by the U.S. government until 2001 when he was 85 years old.
Let me tell you about him.
Mr. Grundy was an early pioneer in aviation. He learned to fly from a local dare devil named H.T. Howard around the age of 14. Later he got a pilot’s license at Bowman Field in Louisville then left for California where he continued his education in flight in the 1930’s. He actually shared an aircraft hangar with the famous aviator, millionaire, and movie producer Howard Hughes.
He began working for Pan American Airways in the late 30’s. His secret life began when Pan American received a classified contract to establish an air route across southern Africa while Germany and Great Britain fought for control of northern Africa in 1940. Mr. Grundy was the chief architect of that route building airports using native labor. The U.S. entered World War II while he was still in Africa so he stayed there for the next two years as part of the Army Air Corps.
Mr. Grundy went back to work for Pan American after World War II and was promptly sent to China in the Far East. He ended up working with another aviation legend, General Claire Chennault of the famous Flying Tigers, as part of Civilian Air Transport (CAT). This airline operated in China while the Communists and the Nationalist battled for control of the country. One harrowing tale involved Mr. Grundy on the last plane out of the city of Shanghai as it fell to the communists. The airfield was overrun while his plane was headed down the airstrip.
He ended up in Taiwan with the remaining aviation assets salvaged from CAT. It was there that his secret life began again. The Central Intelligence Agency bought out CAT and kept Mr. Grundy on as president. The mission was to establish a covert airline that would provide support and cover for secret operations by the CIA. This led to Mr. Grundy running and/or establishing Air America, Civilian Air Transport, Air Asia, China National Aviation Corporation, and Southern Air Transport. In all, Mr. Grundy was in charge of over 10,000 employees and some 200 various types of aircraft. This included passenger planes, heavy lift helicopters, cargo planes, attack helicopters and attack aircraft. He also had the capability of providing maintenance for all of these assets including the latest U.S. jet fighter aircraft.
Now what is most amazing is that the labor for performing these highly technical tasks came primarily from foreign nationals from a wide assortment of Asian countries. Can you imagine the language barriers Mr. Grundy had to work with? This includes the fact that all the huge technical manuals were in English and had to be translated.
In addition, the work for the CIA was anything but ordinary and often involved carving out runways in remote isolated areas of third world countries.
The U.S. involvement in Vietnam led to a huge escalation in the need for Mr. Grundy’s support of covert operations for the government. One of the highest missions of his people, which were never told, was the rescue of downed American pilots in that conflict. Many a person owes his life for what Mr. Grundy’s people did in rescuing them.
The air operations were eventually shut down after Vietnam. During that time, Mr. Grundy not only provided support for covert air operations for the government around the world but also ran a legitimate business. Mr. James Glerum said that business provided a profit for the government and gave the U.S. taxpayer a “free ride” in all its covert mission costs. You don’t see that very often, if ever.
I guess that’s it.
Except to say that Mr. Grundy’s service to his country saved many lives while helping to protect the nation that he loved, for decades, while receiving and expecting no personal credit.
Mrs. Grundy, I know you lost a lot the day Mr. Grundy died. However, we all wish to say thank you for his and your service to our country. It is a debt that can never be repaid.
Hugh Grundy’s colors ran deep and they were red, white, and blue.
He was a true patriot.