Greeley’s sprawling Linn Grove
Cemetery was virtually deserted Friday. Sprinklers seemed noisy. After a visit to the main office to get a map and directions
from Jackie at the reception desk, I pulled up to Block 14, Lot 50 and got out of the car.
Among the graves of other Monfort family members, the white marble, U.S. military-style headstone
401AAF BOMB GROUP
WORLD WAR II
JANUARY 29, 1944
A single bouquet of flowers already was at the foot of
» » »
Richard Lee “Dick” Monfort was the son of Greeley cattle feedlot innovator Warren Monfort and Edith Monfort.
Dick’s sister, Margery, was two years older. His brother, Kenneth (“Kenny”), was nearly six years younger.
After graduating from Greeley High in 1939, Dick was a junior at Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic
Arts, or what now is Colorado State University, when he entered the Army Air Forces in 1942.
in training, he married Viola Swanson of Greeley.
In late 1943, Monfort was deployed to Deenethorpe,
England, with the 8th Air Force’s 401st Bomb Group, 615th Squadron, joining the fight against Germany. He was the navigator
on Capt. Lee Van Syckle’s B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber crew.
A massive 800-bomber
daylight raid over Frankfurt was the 10-man crew’s third mission. It also was the first U.S. bombing foray to the central
German city following many earlier British raids.
The date was JANUARY 29, 1944.
radio personality Rick Crandall tirelessly champions veterans causes. His efforts led to the opening of the Colorado Freedom
Memorial in May 2013 in Aurora. Before its dedication, Crandall alerted me Richard L. Monfort’s name was on the memorial,
among those of nearly 6,000 Coloradans killed or missing in action while serving their country.
also obtained and forwarded to me the “Missing Air Crew Report,” opened after the mission and supplemented over
the next 18 months. It was declassified in 1973, and as is the case with most reports of that era based on interviews with
survivors, it is remarkable in its narrative detail, especially given the staggering number of similar reports that had to
With the clouds as the backdrop
beyond the clear glass, Richard L. Monfort is honored on the Colorado Freedom Memorial. (Terry Frei)
day, Monfort was in the nose of the B-17 with bombardier Stanley Groski. Van Syckle’s plane dropped its bombs and turned
away. Soon, a group of German pilots in Messerschmitt fighters attacked the B-17 and others in the lower box of the American
wing. The Germans’ planes were equipped with machine guns and cannons firing 20mm rockets.
struck Van Syckle’s Flying Fortress in the wing tanks, which caught fire, and the tail. Tail gunner Charles Duke yelled,
“I’m hit!” And then, “I’m done for!”
In the nose, Groski, having
completed his role as bombardier, was firing the chin turret gun when the plane was hit. The impact knocked him back into
The bailout order came amid the chaos. Groski later said he believed Monfort was hit before they
jumped. Also, as Groski and Monfort left the front of the plane, the German pilots in the Messerschmitts still were firing
on the B-17.
other crew members jumped from their areas of the bomber, ball turret gunner Donald Lamb was horrified to see radio operator
Joseph Glonek speed past him on the way down. The lines of Glonek’s chute were deployed, but the canopy was unopened.
Duke, the tail gunner who had cried out, likely still was in the plane when it exploded during its free fall.
On the ground, seven of Van Syckle’s crew members — or all except Monfort, Glonek and Duke — were
captured alive. The Germans took co-pilot Mitchell Woods to a village and told him two dead members of the B-17 crew had landed
there. He was shown their escape kits and watches and a navigator’s map. Woods concluded the dead Americans were Monfort
and Glonek. The Germans refused to let him see the bodies.
The co-pilot also was told the chute of one American, which he assumed was Glonek, hadn’t opened
enough to save him, even if he was alive when he reached the ground; and the chute of the other American, presumably Monfort,
The next day, Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military newspaper, reported 15 bombers
— or fewer than 2 percent of the 800 on the mission — were lost. The story noted: “Preliminary reports of
the Frankfurt raid gave no indication last night of the opposition encountered or the damage done, but some returning crews
said they were ‘puzzled’ by the lack of German resistance on the way in. Neither fighter nor flak opposition was
heavy, they said, until the Forts had made their bombing run and were headed for the coast — a further indication of
the success of the recent concerted assault on Nazi fighter factories and airfields.”
of how many lost planes there were, Monfort was in one of them. And he didn’t survive. Two weeks later, he was reported
to be among those Missing in Action. Then his death was confirmed. Other crew members became prisoners of war.
The entrance to the Colorado
Freedom Memorial in Aurora. (Terry Frei)
Dick had just turned 21. Kenny was 15. Walt Barnhart later
wrote in his 2008 book, “Kenny’s Shoes,” that Kenny was fine with Dick being ticketed to head the family
business and was hoping to become a journalist. In 1948, Kenny and his Colorado A&M fraternity buddy, future Colorado
Governor Roy Romer, visited Dick’s grave in the military cemetery at Nancy, France, near the German border. The remains
were brought back to Greeley.
Kenny had four children, including sons Dick and Charlie, plus daughters
Kay and Kyle. When he served two terms in the Colorado Legislature in the tumultuous 1960s, Kenny — who had been so
affected by his brother’s death — was known as an anti-war Democrat. In 1980, he switched parties. He died in
Kenny’s son Dick needs no introduction in Greeley, and it goes beyond Dick’s
long-time linkage to the Monfort family business, including after its 1987 sale, until his retirement from ConAgra in 1995.
He’s involved in other business pursuits and is active in charity and civic ventures, currently serving as chairman
of UNC’s board of trustees.
Outside of Greeley, he and Charlie are best known as the primary owners
of the Colorado Rockies. Dick is the team’s managing general partner, chairman and chief executive officer. Charlie
is listed as an owner/general partner.
Dick was born in 1954. His birth name is Richard Lee Monfort.
On Sunday, Dick said when he was “7 or 8,” Kenny sat down with Dick and Kyle, two years older, and told
the kids about their uncle. Dick came away honored to have been named Richard Lee Monfort, and that feeling lingers.
“He told us how (my uncle) died in the war and how my dad really looked to him,” Dick said Sunday. “And
how my uncle was going to be the one who was going to run the business and my dad was going to do something else. He said
that he and his sister (Margery) had both agreed they’d call their first male child Richard.”
son, or Dick’s cousin, was Richard “Ricky” Wilson. He died of leukemia at age 19.
a day like (Memorial Day), I feel for anybody that died in any type of war that we’ve had,” Dick said. “God
bless them for doing all they did so we could have our freedom.”
» » »
I also paid a return visit to the Colorado Freedom Memorial
last week. The glass panels on the sweeping memorial in Aurora variously angle forward or backward.
it was, on Panel 15 near the center of the memorial. Second column, sixth row of names, against a backdrop of puffy clouds
visible through the glass.
“RICHARD L MONFORT”
One name among the
Here, he represents all those we salute on Memorial Day.