Col. James Leonard Mulligan

james mulligan

August 17, 1922 ~ September 6, 2021

Born in: Bradley, IL
Resided in: Swannanoa, NC

SWANNANOA – Col. James L. Mulligan, 99, of Swannanoa, passed away Monday, September 6, 2021. Born in Bradley, Illinois, to the late Joseph Michael and Pearl Walters Mulligan, he was preceded in death by his wife of 41 years, Phyllis Patton Mulligan.

A WWII Veteran, he retired as a Colonel from the United States Air Force after serving 33 years for his country.

He is survived by his children: Michael Mulligan (Lela), Kathleen Venegas (Sarge), Patricia Selenak, all of CA, 10 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and three nieces; Terrie Carpenter (Harold) of Lilesville, NC, Kelly Johnson (Steve), 2 granddaughters, and 1 great-granddaughter of Terrell, NC.

Col. Mulligan began his military career in 1942 as a WWII Navy gunner fighter. In 1949, he joined the Air Force and received his Pilot Wings and Commission. He then actively served in the Korean Conflict. After training in Arizona, he became a test pilot and joined the first Astronaut Training Program with Neil Armstrong and Chuck Yeager. (Col. Mulligan’s astronaut suit is on display in a museum in Texas.)

Col. Mulligan flew 130+ missions in Vietnam as a fighter pilot. After returning stateside, in the early 1970’s, he flew the SR-71 “Blackbird” (a long-range, high-altitude Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft) over Russia with top-secret clearance. He was instrumental in developing and training NATO pilots with this aircraft.

During the 1978 Afghanistan conflict, Col. Mulligan ended his military career while stationed at Rhein Main Air Base near Frankfurt, Germany, as a fighter pilot.

In 1979, Col. Mulligan and his wife returned to her family homeplace in Swannanoa where they built their retirement home. As a volunteer at the Charles George VA Medical Center, he logged over 10,000 volunteer hours. He was also a member of the local Air Force Association, that designed, raised funds for, and built the Western NC Memorial in downtown Asheville.

Col. Mulligan ended his distinguished military career having received many military decorations and awards. Some of which include the Vietnam Service Medal with 4 bronze stars, the National Defense Service Medal with 1 bronze star, the Air Medal with 1 silver and 1 bronze oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, and the Air Force Longevity Service Award Ribbon with 1 silver and 2 bronze oak leaf clusters.

A Graveside Service with Military Honors will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 9, 2021, at the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, NC.

In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to your local Air Force Association, the Charles George Asheville VA Medical Center (Hospice Butterfly Fund), or the American Legion (Bradley, Illinois).

Groce Funeral Home on Tunnel Road is assisting the family.


Graveside Service: September 9, 2021 2:00 pm

Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery
962 Old US Hwy 70
Black Mountain, NC 28711


Funeral Home Assisting The Family:

Groce Funeral Home on Tunnel Road
856 Tunnel Rd.
Asheville, NC 28805


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    • I have a photo I would love to share with you
      He was a wonderful man that my family loved dearly. I’m so sad to hear of his passing.

  1. I met the Col. as he was called at the Asheville VA when I worked at the canteen store there. I enjoyed his visits so much and looked forward to seeing him. Sometimes when I had not seen him in a while I’d ask the caretakers at the CLC how he was when they came in the store. Sadly the pandemic cut out the Col. being able to come next door to the hospital. I would still inquire about him when I saw his caretakers and ask them to tell him I said hello. Eventually I got another job in the hospital and one day as I was on my way to the store around 9 months ago I happened to see someone sitting in a wheelchair in front of where veterans go to give blood for labs. I had to look twice…and started walking toward the person in the wheelchair because he looked so familiar. When I got close enough to my delight I recognized it was the Col.! I was so happy to see him but of course I had to ask why he was there because of course everyone at the CLC was in quarantine. He told me he was there for bloodwork and we continued our conversation for a short time. I then told him how glad I was to be able to see him again and that I hoped we would be able to visit again soon. That was the last time I saw him.Later I found out he had taken an “unauthorized” trip over to the hospital from the CLC! It made me smile and we talked about it amongst ourselves for some time with affection. I still often think of him and told him I knew he had some stories I’d love to hear being a WWII veteran. You see my father was a WWII veteran as well and that is what brought me to want to work at the VA hospital. Meeting and getting to know the Col. and many other veterans helped fill a void for me as my father has been gone since 1990. None more though than the Col. as I could see and appreciate the similarities of having served in the same war and knowing if my father was still alive that they would be around the same age. At times I could feel my fathers’ presence as I talked to this kind man and looked into his eyes. Little did he know what a void he was filling for me just having a simple conversation. I’ll never forget what he did for me just being the COL. …..just being himself. He gave more than he even realized to this daughter of a veteran who always looked forward to seeing her father again in his eyes. Thank you Col. …for your service and for your visits to the store. What a blessing he was to so many. You will be missed….but fondly remembered by many.

  2. My heartfelt condolences to the family and especially to Terrie and Kelly for your loss. Jim came into my live for the first time in 1977 in Potzbach, Germany. On a worm Spring evening, our door bell rang just after we were sitting down for our evening meal, I went to the door and the stranger standing outside our door said, Are you “Windy” Patton. The first thought that came to me was “Who is this guy. Here I am over 3000 miles from home and this stranger is calling me by my nick name. He never introduced himself. All he said was “I have somebody in the car that wants to see you.” I followed the stranger out to his car and to my disbelief my sister “Phyllis” was sitting in the car. After getting over the shock of see my sister in the car, the stranger introduced himself. “I’m Jim Mulligan.” As we were shaking hands, my sister formally introduced me to Jim as Colonel James Mulligan and that they had met at Pope AFB , N. C. My family and I shared many wonderful experiences together with Jim and my sister in Germany. Jim was the one who made it possible for many fond memories of our Germany tour of duty and memories that will always be with me and my family. From one veteran to another veteran, I salute you for your service. RIP my brother-in-law.

  3. Dad, may you rest in eternal peace within the light and love of our Lord.
    With all our love and gratitude,
    Mike and Lela Mulligan

  4. Uncle Bud, you have always been my hero. I will miss you but now you are with those you love that has gone before you. Say ‘hi’ to Mom
    Love, Lauren

  5. I will miss you Dad. Thank you for all you taught me. It has helped me to be brave like you. Love “Paddy” (his Irish nick name for me).

  6. My deepest sympathy to the family. The Colonel will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my pleasure to know and care for him at the VA .

  7. Always loved the summers when you and family came for a long visit. Saddest day was when you had to return home. Rest in peace. God bless your family.

  8. My deepest sympathy to your family. It was a pleasure to know and care for the Col. He is missed. Will miss you too Terry and Kelly.

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