General Eisenhower is not the only presidential connection with Stoney Cross as the maternal grandfather of US President Barack Obama, US Army Sergeant Stanley Armour Dunham, arrived at RAF Stoney Cross in 1944 and served there for a brief period in the build up to D Day. Dunham, who died in 1992, was the Kansas born guy with the outsized personality who helped to fill the hole in the future president’s life created by the absence of Obama’s Kenyan father.
By all reports Dunham was a larger than life character who, after a rather wayward youth, eloped with Madelyn Payne just before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, after which he was quick to enlist in the US Army. “He was really gung-ho,” remembers a family member. “He didn’t have to go because he was married. He could have held off.” He enlisted at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on January 15 1942. That November, while Dunham still was stationed in the US, he was granted home leave when his daughter, Stanley Ann, was born at Fort Leavenworth. Her unusual name, Barack Obama wrote, was “one of Gramps’ less judicious ideas as he had wanted a son.” The family called her Stannie. Later, she would be known as Ann. In December 1942, weeks old Stanley Ann makes her appearance as a dependent on Dunham’s pay records.
Sgt. Dunham’s war years have been something of a mystery, the details of dates and places lost with the passage of time. As a consequence, the units that he served in were unknown even to the White House until the Associated Press unearthed records and undertook a series of interviews.
It is known that his company supported the 9th Air Force as it prepared for the assault on Normandy and took part in the drive that carried the Allies across France. Dunham spent the first year and a half of his war service in the US as part of it in the 1802nd Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company, Aviation, at Baer Field in Indiana and then transferred to the 1830th Ordnance Supply and Maintenance Co., Aviation in March 1943. His unit shipped out to England on the HMS Mauretania that October.
Some ideas of the rhythms of life for Dunham and the men of the 1830th emerge from the weekly unit histories. Men transfer in and out. There is field training. There is a lecture on mines and booby-traps, another on “sex morality.” Typhus shots are administered. The company drills on the use of the carbine. The men take a three mile hike and bivouacked overnight. Time and again, they move on from one airfield to the next, supporting the front lines. During this period they were attached to the 367th Fighter Group of the USAAF. The 367th or “Dynamite Gang” were stationed at Stoney Cross from 5 April 1944 until early July when they moved to nearby Ibsley airfield
Stanley Dunham seems to have been a good guy to have around. For one thing, he taught the men how to use their new gas masks and also came up with a radio, games and books for a day room that Dunham’s commanding officer described as “a swell place to spend an evening.” On his payday on May 31 1944, Dunham organised a collection of £35 and lined up a convoy of girls from Southampton who the men hoped would be “simply smashing,” as his reporting officer, Frederick Maloof, wrote in his diary! “The party was a huge success, except that the beer ran out about 10:30 p.m.,” Maloof later reported. “All agreed that the orchestra was good. A few of the die-hards were still crooning over the empty beer barrels at an early morning hour.”
Stanley Dunham’s older brother Ralph, great-uncle to Barack Obama, was also in the UK prior to D Day. Ralph was called up after Stanley enlisted. In the months before the invasion, the brothers met up twice in England while on leave. Once, they came across each other by chance in London, where Ralph was staying at the Russell Hotel. “I walked down the steps and there was my brother sitting on a settee,” 92-year-old Ralph Dunham said in an interview decades later. It transpired that Stanley’s hotel had run out of rations and he was sent to the Russell in search of food. The two Kansas boys spent the rest of their leave together, touring the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and other sites with a helpful taxi driver. At night, they sampled the London theater offerings and Ralph remembers them seeing “Hamlet.”
For all the good times, the strains of war were ever present for Dunham and his fellow men. On the evening after D Day, Dunham’s unit dug 27 foxholes. “This was done in case of a retaliation by the Germans,” Maloof wrote. “This was the day we had all been waiting for”, Dunham’s commanding officer wrote the night of June 6 at Stoney Cross. “Planes by the hundreds took off and landed at our field from dusk until dawn.”
On June 11, the first hospital ships returned from France, bringing tales of the “hardships encountered on invasion day.” That same day, Maloof wrote that “our mail has not been reaching home, and the wives and sweethearts are beginning to wonder if we have gone across the channel on the first wave.” The wives included Madelyn Dunham, back home in Wichita, Kansas, with Stanley Ann, a toddler who would grow up to be Obama’s mother.
Late in July, six weeks after D-Day, Stanley Dunham’s unit crossed the English Channel and landed at Omaha Beach. The men of the 1830th followed the front through France after the initial invasion, servicing airfields in places such as Brucheville, Cricqueville, St.-Jean-de-Daye, Peray, Clastres, Juvincourt and Saint-Dizier. At the end of the war in Europe, Stanley Dunham was discharged from the Army on August 30 1945.
Stanley and Madelyn moved to Hawaii in 1960, where where their daughter Ann met her future husband (Barack Obama’s father) at Hawaii University. However, their marriage was short lived and they separated within weeks of Barack being born in 1961. After moving with his mother to Indonesia, Barack returned to live with his grandparents in Hawaii in 1971 where they played an important part of his life. Stanley passed away 1992, aged 73, and Madelyn died in 2008, aged 86, two days before Obama was elected president.