National Hispanic Heritage Month: José Antonio Muñiz, Military Pilot

José Antonio Muñiz, an aviator whose U.S. military career included service in Southeast Asia during World War II, was born on October 16, 1919, in the city and municipality of Ponce on Puerto Rico’s southern coast. He was a student at elementary and secondary schools in Ponce. Muñiz then enrolled at the Ponce-based Colegio Ponceño de Varones, but ultimately completed his studies at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) instead. During his time at UPR, Muñiz was a member of that university’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program.

At this stage of his life, Muñiz developed a strong interest in aviation. He participated in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), which provided flight instruction at UPR’s campus in what was then the town and municipality of Rio Piedras (now part of Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan).

Not long after the United States entered World War II on the side of the Allies, the CPTP was placed under the control of the War Training Service. As a result of this redesignaton, all CPTP enrollees were required to sign a contract agreeing to enter the U.S. military after graduation. After graduating from both UPR and ROTC, Muñiz received a commission as second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. In 1942, he was assigned to the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF).

Muñiz’s subsequent activities during World War entailed serving with distinction in the China-Burma-India Theater.  During that tour of duty, he flew a total of 20 combat missions against the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force.

In May 1947 — nearly two years after the end of World War II and seven months before the USAAF was officially disbanded and replaced with the newly formed U.S. Air Force (USAF) — Muñiz was discharged from active duty. He then returned home and helped establish the Puerto Rico National Air Guard (PRANG). After the onset of the Korean War in 1950, Muñiz was recalled to active duty and assigned to the USAF. He remained on active duty in that military branch until 1958.

After returning to Puerto Rico, Muñiz rejoined PRANG and became commander of its 198th Fighter Squadron. He was serving in this role on July 4, 1960, when an accident claimed his life during a holiday celebration in San Juan. Muñiz died after the plane he was flying as part of a military formation that day flamed out on takeoff and crashed. He was buried with full military honors at the Puerto Rico National Cemetery in the San Juan suburb of Bayamón. Three years later, PRANG’s home base at Puerto Rico International Airport (now known as Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport) in the San Juan suburb of Carolina was renamed Muñiz Air National Guard Base in memory of him.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on José Antonio Muñiz, please check out

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