Parade to kick off day-long celebration, culminating in fireworks shows Independence Day evening

By Dennis Beebe

Special to the Santa Ynez Valley Star

Solvang Rotary President Valerie Kissell recently announced that Jim Kunkle of Solvang will serve as the Grand Marshal of the 2024 Fourth of July Parade in Solvang

Eighty years ago, Kunkle, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces, was patrolling the skies in his “Lightning,” a Lockheed P-38 fighter, above the D-Day invasion fleet. His mission: Protect the fleet from attack from the dreaded German Air Force (Luftwaffe). While attending the 80th D-Day anniversary in Normandy last month, Jim expressed his disappointment that the Luftwaffe did not appear that day. Not to worry; there would be plenty of action ahead.  

Second Lt. Jim Kunkle is shown as U.S. Army Air Forces pilot in 1944. Contributed Photo

His 9th Air Force fighter unit was one of first to begin operations from Normandy, from a hastily constructed airstrip just a few miles from Omaha Beach. Using bombs and a formidable array of machine guns and a cannon in the nose of the P-38s, his unit concentrated on ground attack of German armor, troops, trains, and anything that moved on the French highways. He was called upon numerous times to perform dangerous ground attack missions in the vicinity of Allied troops under German attack. As the Allied ground forces moved eastward, Kunkle’s unit moved with them, launching operations from multiple airfields in France. 

Kunkle’s combat career suddenly ended on Sept. 16, 1944. On that date, while flying as rear man in his squadron, Kunkle noticed that his squadron was about to be surprised by a vastly superior force of enemy aircraft. Unable to summon his leader on the radio, he alone pulled away from his formation and attacked the enemy, immediately destroying one of his aircraft. But he had placed himself in a vulnerable position to be attacked from the rear and above. Many hits were registered on his aircraft, which caught fire, burning his face, neck, and hands. Despite his burning plane and gunfire from enemy planes, Kunkle continued his attack and succeeded in destroying a second enemy aircraft before his left fuel tank exploded and he was forced to parachute to safety.

For his heroic service in the skies over Europe, Kunkle was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Legion of Honor, and the Purple Heart.

After departing the U.S. Air Force in 1948, Kunkle continued his aviation career. He established and operated fixed base operations to support general aviation operations throughout California, the most recent at the Santa Maria Airport. Kunkle continues to fly his own airplane at the ripe old age of 101 but is barred from flying solo by his wife, Ruth. He owns three aircraft and keeps them flight-ready in his hangar at the Santa Ynez Airport. In recognition of his active participation and leadership of three generations of the Kunkle family in local aviation, the Santa Ynez Airport is now named Kunkle Field and it sports a silhouette of a P-38 on its logo.

Kunkle was the featured celebrity at the recent Santa Ynez Airport Day. He held court for his admirers, young and old, under the wing of a restored P-38, flown in for the occasion by a pilot from Planes of Fame in Chino, California. More than once during the day, he glanced lovingly at the access ladder to the cockpit and the clear skies above. At the end of the day, he and his family gathered to wave as the P-38 took off.

Fourth of July Parade starts at 11 a.m.

The Solvang Rotary’s annual Fourth of July Parade starts at 11 a.m., and marks the beginning of the Independence Day celebrations. In the parade you will enjoy numerous participants, including classic cars, lively horse troupes, dance groups, high school marching band, creatively designed floats from local businesses, and more! The parade route winds through the town, covering the majority of Solvang’s main streets. Following the parade you can enjoy a barbecue in Solvang Park.

Santa Ynez Valley Fourth of July Celebration at Mission Santa Ines

The Santa Ynez Valley Rotary Club will present the annual Fourth of July Festival and Fireworks Show at Old Mission Santa Inès in Solvang on Thursday, July 4. 

The festival is an all day event from 12 to 10 p.m., starts right after the parade, and is considered one of the best on the Central Coast. Over 50 merchant and food vendors are on site, with a great selection of food options, with live entertainment all day, including DJ Peete. We also have a large kids area with bounce houses, small mechanical rides, carnival games, and face painters! The Fireworks Show will begin promptly at 9 p.m. and we suggest that you arrive early this year as we expect record attendance.

The gates open at 12 p.m., admission is $15, and kids 12 and under are free when accompanied by an adult. Active military with ID will receive up to four complimentary passes. Any additional tickets must be purchased. All active military must show IDs at the entrance.