Lieutenant Colonel José Antonio Muņiz


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Lieutenant Colonel José Antonio Muņiz

By Tony (The Marine) Santiago

Lieutenant Colonel José Antonio Muņiz (October 16, 1919 –July 4, 1960) was a former United States Air Force officer who during World War II served in the United States Army Air Forces. Together with then-Colonels Alberto A. Nido and Mihiel Gilormini he founded the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. In 1963, the Air National Guard Base, at the San Juan International airport in Puerto Rico, was renamed "Muņiz Air National Guard Base" in his honor.

Early years - Muņiz (birth name: José Antonio Muņiz Vazquez) was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. There he received his primary and secondary education. He attended the "Colegio Ponceņo de Varones" in Ponce and later the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). During his student years, he was a member of that institutions Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program.  

Like many Puerto Ricans who became interested in aviation, Muņiz made use of the Civilian Pilot Training Program, a federal program which came about with the approval of the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938. The CPTP used the classrooms of the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, which was supported by government funds and which provided a pool of young civilian pilots who could be available for military service if war came.

Lieutenant Colonel José Antonio Muņiz

Executive Order 8974, which was signed on December 12, 1941, transferred the CPTP into a wartime program under the War Training Service (WTS). All WTS graduates were now required to sign a contract agreeing to enter the military following graduation. Muņiz received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army from the ROTC, upon his graduation from the UPR in 1941.

World War II - Muņiz joined the United States Army and in 1942 was assigned to the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), a component of the Army and received additional training as a fighter pilot. The USAAF was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II. He served with distinction in the China-Burma-India. During his tour of duty he flew 20 combat missions against the Imperial Japanese Army Air Forces and shot down a Mitsubishi A6M Zero.

Post World War II and the Korean War - Muņiz continued in active duty until May 1947. Together with then-Colonels Alberto A. Nido and Mihiel Gilormini, he founded the Puerto Rico Air National Guard (PRANG). During the Korean War he was recalled to active duty and was reassigned to the United States Air Force (aviation military branch which was formed in September 1947). Muņiz served actively in said branch until February 7, 1958.


Upon his return to Puerto Rico, he rejoined the Puerto Rico Air National Guard as Commander of the 198th Fighter Squadron. He served in that capacity until a tragic accident took his life. In 1960, Muņiz was flying a formation of F-86s celebrating the 4th of July festivities in Puerto Rico and upon take off his airplane flamed out and crashed. Major General Orlando Llenza, then a fellow aviator in the unit, later described the loss in the following translation: 

"We were short one pilot and Joe (Muņiz) offered to stand in. I was formation lead.  Right after departing the runway, his afterburner nozzles failed open, indicating a loss of power.  The ejection seats in use at the time could not safely extract a pilot at low altitude and Joe went in little after takeoff.  No one in the flight mentioned the event; we executed the flyover and were notified of the loss upon our return to base.  Shortly after that, we received the F-86H which did not use afterburning and could fly non-stop from homestead AFB (in Florida) to San Juan unlike the previous D and E models, which had to stop for fuel at Guantanamo, Cuba." 

  Muņiz was buried with full military honors at the Puerto Rico Memorial Cemetery in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Muņiz had married twice. His first wife was Laura Elena Lluberas Kell, who died at an early age, and he had one son from that marriage: Terry Francisco Muņiz Kell. His second wife was Sara Emilia Olivari and they had four children: Jose Antonio, Cristina, Ana Elena, and Eric Muņiz Olivari.

Legacy - In 1963, the Air National Guard Base, at the San Juan International airport in Puerto Rico, was renamed "Muņiz Air National Guard Base" in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Jose Antonio Muņiz Vazquez. Muņiz Air National Guard Base is the home of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard's 156th Airlift Wing and the 198th Airlift Squadron.
Type of aircraft in which Muņiz tragicly lost his life

Muņiz ANGB a has hangar, Command Offices, a U.S. Air Force & Air National Guard recluting office, Classrooms, Maintenance shops, A Community Club, a Family Readiness Center, a post barbershop and NGX has a Post exchange on base.

Among Muņiz's awards and decorations were the following:

*Air Medal
*Soldier's Medal
*Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
*Presidential Unit Citation
*Air Reserve Forces Medal
*American Campaign Medal
*World War II Victory Medal
*Korean Service Medal
*United Nations Service Medal
*National Defense Service Medal
*WW II Army Air Force Pilot Badge
*Aviator badge|US Air Force Pilot badge 



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