After losing many of his friends and fellow pilots in World War II, Presbyterian Village North resident John “Lucky” Luckadoo is taking this Memorial Day to honor their lives and remember his service. He will spend Memorial Day at his old airbase in England, and he is taking the free trip through the Greatest Generation Foundation’s Battlefield Program. Luckadoo was in the Mighty Eighth Air Force and was one of the original pilots in the 100thBomb Group, later known as the “Bloody Hundredth” because of its many fatalities. Of the 40 copilots in his original group, he was one of the only four who survived an entire tour. Because of these experiences, Luckadoo considers his nickname “Lucky” to ring true, and encourages everyone to pause on Memorial Day to remember all of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I’m really looking forward to getting together with other veterans and flying back over to England and Normandy,” said Luckadoo. “It is hard to believe it has been 70 years since I completed my mission, because it all still feels so real and vivid. I wake up every day feeling very lucky to have escaped my experiences with only a case of frostbite.”
Luckadoo was in his sophomore year of college when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He joined the Air Force right after that and went to flight school. His flight group had just completed its phase training and was given a final certification check for deployment. The group ran into some weather issues causing them to land scattered across the U.S., and therefore was considered to have a lack of “air discipline” only achieving co-pilot status. But because of the quick rate of fatalities amongst pilots, they were badly needed to support England. So having never seen a B17 before, all 40 co-pilots deployed as high altitude, daylight formation combat bombers.
“The British had already attempted daylight bombings and were adamant that we not try them because statistically, there was an extremely low chance of survival,” said Luckadoo. “But we just did what we were told and continued on as daylight formation bombers. At that stage, it was required that our aircrews fly 25 combat missions before being relieved. However, the average longevity of our aircrew was only 11 missions, making it nearly impossible for an entire crew to complete a tour of 25 missions.”
Luckadoo considers October 8, 1943 to be the day that he looked death in the face. This was the day of the Bremen Mission, and Luckadoo was in the low group of the Wing formation leading the second element of the low squadron known as the “Purple Heart Corner.” Bremen, Germany was being defended by everything the Germans had, and by this time, they had perfected tracking U.S. formations and plotting their course, firing a series of shells to match their entire formation. This is when the formation was barreled through by a German plane and collided in mid-air with the plane directly in front of Luckadoo, exploding right before him. Others in the formation began falling out quickly, and Luckadoo was able to tack onto the 95th Group that was flying behind his group.
“Once I was in the next group I was able to assess the damage to my plane,” said Luckadoo. “It was then that I realized we received a flak hole in the nose, which left a hole allowing an influx of sub-zero air straight into the cockpit. Even though I was wearing sheepskin-lined flying boots over heat shoes, I very quickly had two frostbit feet, making controlling the rudder pedals extremely difficult. Once we made it back, we realized we were one of only six planes who made it back of the total of 18 sent out that day.”
Having seen his friend’s plane explode in front of him along with losing many men, Luckadoo remembers how difficult it was to get back in a plane every day. He never knew which day might be his last and will never forget the overwhelming sense of fear he constantly felt. Luckadoo will always carry those feelings and memories with him, and while he pauses to reflect on Memorial Day, he encourages the rest of Dallas to do the same.
“We are so grateful for all of our veterans including Mr. Luckadoo,” said Ron Kelly, executive director at Presbyterian Village North. “Hearing his story firsthand about his experiences as a combat pilot and about all of the friends he lost, really makes me thankful for all of the men and women who have served our country. I am mindful of all of those who have lost loved ones in war this Memorial Day, and hope Mr. Luckadoo’s story encourages others to share theirs.”