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By Carmen Ensinger
Keith Muntz will achieve a goal that most of us can only dream of achieving this coming Saturday, Sept. 18 – he will turn 100 years old. To celebrate this milestone, the Greenfield community is coming together with a tractor/car/bike/any kind of vehicle parade in front of his house, located at 124 Prairie, beginning at 10 a.m.
Alfred Keith Muntz was born in 1921, the youngest child of Harry Morton and Myra Alma (Lorton) Muntz. Ironically, he will have to live quite a while longer to become the oldest living member of his family.
“My sister, Edna, lived to be 107 years old,” Muntz said. “She was born in 1912 so there was a big age difference between us. For a time, she was even my teacher when I went to the Appalonia School, which was a one-room schoolhouse.”
Ironically, when asked what one memory stuck out in his mind over the past 100 years, that memory had to do with his sister.
“In that one-room schoolhouse, we had this big pot-bellied stove up in the front of the room and it was my job in the winter to take care of getting the coal to put in it,” Muntz said. “I’ll always remember they would bring a truckload of coal and dump it on the outside and I would go outside and bring that coal in and I did that and fired the furnace and I didn’t get paid very much for it either. That is one of the things that will always stick out for me.”
After grade school, Muntz attended White Hall High School graduating with the class of 1939. He has fond memories of his high school days.
“There were no buses back then,” he said. “We had to furnish our own transportation to school, so several friends of my age in the community formed a carpool and took turns driving. I am the only one left of my graduating class of 72.”
After graduation, Muntz went to work with his dad on the family farm for the next three years until Uncle Sam called him to serve his country. Muntz remembers “The day that will live in infamy” as if it were yesterday.
“When the word arrived on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by Japan, I had been to church in White Hall and little did I know how this day would affect my life,” he said. “I knew very little about this place called Hawaii – it seemed so far away. I had just turned 20 in September and now I had to register for the draft and as I was a healthy lad, I was put in 1-A classification. My name was drawn by the draft board and I was one of the first 20-year-olds from Greene County to become a soldier for Uncle Sam.”
On July 6, 1942, Muntz was inducted into the U.S. Army at Scott Air Field in Belleville. He was allowed about a week to go home and get his affairs in order before he was sent off to basic training in Texas.
In August of 1944, Muntz and about 8,000 other troops boarded the U.S.S. West Point and headed out into the Atlantic Ocean headed for England.
“We had no escort ships – we were on our own – only blue water and high waves as far as you could see,” Muntz recalls. “Our ship rounded Northern Ireland, skidded through the North Channel, passed the hills of Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, and then we landed at Liverpool Harbor in England.”
Muntz said there were 8,521 soldiers on board the ship which traveled 3,376 miles in eight days.
As the company made their way into France, the Germans managed to sneak up on them and he and several other men in his company were captured while trying to save an injured soldier.
Fortunately, Muntz did not have to spend too long in the POW camp, only about six months. In his account of his time in the POW camp, Muntz had nothing bad to say about his experience, opting to look on the “bright side”, if there was one.
“When he would talk about the war and his time in the POW camp, he would never tell us any of the bad parts of it,” his daughter Doris Muntz Vestel said. “He would tell us about it, but we never heard anything really negative about it.”
After Muntz was fattened up – he lost a lot of weight being starved in the concentration camp, he was shipped home and he married his sweetheart, Juanita on Aug. 5, 1945. The following day, Aug. 6, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.
Muntz was still in the army on light duty work stationed in Little Rock, Ark. at Camp Robinson until his discharge on Nov. 4, 1945 after 40 months in the Army. He and his wife boarded the train and headed back to Greene County.
Life began in earnest for Muntz and his bride when he arrived back in Greene County and started working for his father on the family farm. Later on, he would work alongside his father until he passed on. Muntz retired around 30 years ago and moved to Greenfield.
Muntz is one of the few people still alive who can recall growing up in the Great Depression. However, he said his family was luckier than most.
“Those were some terrible times and there were a lot of people who lost their farms,” Muntz said. “My dad would have lost his farm, too, but he had an insurance policy where he could borrow money on the interest and that got us through it. Then the war came along and things started to get better.”
Upon his retirement, Muntz and his wife turned the farm over to his son, Don, and moved to Greenfield. He continued his love of farming, putting his talents to work in his garden, which fed not only him, but much of the neighborhood as well. In fact, they had so much, they took it to the farmer’s market.
“My wife and I helped start the farmer’s market in Jacksonville and did that for about 10 or 15 years,” Muntz said. “I raised a lot of produce and we needed some place to get rid of it.”
Vestel said Muntz was always very generous with his neighbors.
“He had the biggest garden you could imagine and he would share with the older folks or anyone that needed food,” she said. “He would go up and down the street and give out whatever he picked out of the garden that day. Now that he is older and he can’t do the gardening, people are really wonderful to bring things to him and pay him back for his generosity all those years ago.”
Muntz lost his wife, Juanita in May of 2020. Vestel said the two were inseparable.
“They had their chairs sitting side by side and would sit there and listen to old time music for hours,” Vestel said. “Mom was in a wheelchair for the last 10 years and dad took care of her until
about the last year when it just got too much for him.”
But at 100, Muntz’s health is very good.
“We just got back from a check-up at the VA Hospital and they said he looks fine,” Vestel said. “He is only on three medications and other than being hard of hearing, he is pretty healthy. He even does his own laundry.”
Muntz was asked what his secret was to long life.
“I never smoked and I never drank,” he said. “I never smoked a cigarette and I took care of myself physically so I guess that was it.”
His daughter had one other thing to add.
“I think he has been blessed by God,” she said. “Mom was a believer and Dad is still a believer.”