Profiles in Courage: Archie Dean “Don” Mull

Profiles in Courage: Archie Dean "Don" Mull

By: Warhawk Air Museum

Posted On: June 3, 2020

It had actually been a pretty routine mission. They had been flying low over Austria, their jet-black A-20 all but invisible against the night sky. A roar of engines, a thundering blast, the rumble as the walls of the glass factory gave way to the concussive force. All was perfectly well in the life of Sergeant Archie “Don” Mull as he stared down into the night through the sights of his specially rigged guns. The Black Widow was a good plane, with a good crew, and Don felt it a singular honor to be their gunner. He had served with them for about a year now—since January of ‘44—and during that time, countless German tanks, trucks, and buildings had fallen prey to the specially set up pair of .50 cal machine guns he manned from the belly of the plane. 

He had not been blessed with an easy life. He had grown up in Oklahoma in the heart of the Dust Bowl and his parents had died before he was fully a man. He had spent his high school years working nights and weekends on his brother’s farm in California, while driving the school bus during the week. He graduated, but with work scarce and college unlikely, had decided to try his luck in the US Army Air Corps. A little basic training and a lot of gunnery school at Gowen Field in Idaho brought him up to speed and the Empire of Japan brought Don and his country into the war the rest of the world was already growing weary of. 

Don did his part. He flew over the icy waters off Alaska and the warm waves of the Mediterranean. His squadron had taken out bridges and convoys up the length of Italy. Mussolini had fallen, the Germans were set to quit the country any day. He allowed his mind to drift back to his wife, Evelyn. He had met her while stationed in Idaho, married her not long afterwards, and seen far too little of her since.

His thoughts were cut short by an eruption of flak from the ground. The locals were decidedly upset with Archie and his crew. They were hard to see but his pilot was as skilled as they came, and this was not the first storm of flak from which they had escaped. For a moment—for a brief glorious moment—it looked like they would once again, but as they reached the limit of the range of the German guns an explosion rocked the plane as one of the rounds finally found its mark in one of their engines. All was chaos as their pilot frantically tried to glide the crippled aircraft back to American lines. He made it close—damned close—but less than five miles from friendly lines he gave the order to bail out. The crew complied and before long Archie was floating through the cold alpine night. 

Most of the crew landed safely. The bombardier and navigator were picked up by friendly Italians and the other gunner spent an eventful week walking back to the American lines. Don was less fortunate. He had been forced to make a rough landing and his ankle had not survived the process intact. Swallowing his pain, he limped through the knee deep snow to a farmhouse, hoping against hope that it wasn’t occupied by the Germans. The school-book English and Bavarian rifles which greeted him at the door informed him otherwise. 

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He was brought into town, fed, and brought to the church. There he was shown the body of his pilot as it lay in state. There was not a mark on him. The Germans explained that he had kept control of the aircraft as long as he could in order to give his crew time to escape. When he finally made his attempt, his body was smashed against the side of the tumbling aircraft. He had shattered nearly every bone in his body. Don was held in the city jail that night and never felt so alone.

The following morning, he was piled into a truck as the German unit pulled out of Italy. As they made their escape, their convoy was intercepted and strafed by American aircraft. He fled off the road into a ditch with his German captors as quickly as his battered leg would carry him. Looking up, he could see the markings on the planes. They were from his squadron. He had flown in several of them. And he wished to God he was with them. 

It was to no avail; the Americans flew off and the Germans loaded into their surviving trucks for the long drive back to Frankfurt. He would spend the next weeks being interrogated, isolated, and underfed as a guest of German intelligence. The Germans did not have much food for their own soldiers, so what Red Cross packages made it through were usually thoroughly stripped by his captors before anything was presented to him.

Even after being transferred to a prisoner of war camp, the hunger did not stop. Winter began to give way to spring, and the cold lessened slightly, but the snow did not. As the camps were emptied to larger camps in the German heartland preceding the advancing Allied armies, Don walked with the other prisoners. He knew he must look quite a sight—gaunt, nervous, and hobbling through the snow with a cane someone had gifted him. All that warmed his heart was the thought of Evelyn waiting for him back home. It took every bit of heart he had to give to brave those last days of the war.

Finally, a cheer went up one day at Moosburg prison camp. It grew louder and louder as thousands upon thousands of American, French, British, and countless other soldiers came to understand the news. The American Army was here; they were free men. The German guards threw down their guns and huddled close to the prisoners who they had befriended. For them, the war was over.

On June first, Mrs. Evelyn Mull received a telegram which she would keep for the rest of her life. It read: 

MRS EVELYN H MULL
414 SOUTH FOURTH ST BOISE IDA

THE CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE ARMY DIRECTS ME TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR HUSBAND STAFF SERGEANT ARCHIE D MULL IS BEING RETURNED TO THE UNITED STATES IN THE NEAR FUTURE AND WILL BE GIVEN AN OPPORTUNITY TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOU UPON ARRIVAL
J A ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.

And he was. And he did. 

They would go to Santa Monica, California to recuperate. While there, the war ended. The couple settled in Meridian, Idaho where they raised a single daughter. Evelyn and Don—who would thereafter go by Archie—were happily married until his death, surrounded by loved ones, in 2009. A peaceful end, for a man who had endured so much. 

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Robert Sarnoff
5 months ago

Another outstanding story. Keep them coming!

Where are you from?
NY, STL, HI, SFO, ID