For some veterans, attending one ceremony on Veterans Day each year is not enough. Some would prefer getting together with other veterans more frequently. Wanting to have monthly opportunities to meet and discuss veteran aviation history and have a time of camaraderie with likeminded people who have similar interests and life experiences, four World War II pilots started Happy Warriors in the mid-1980s. The group, which includes several Presbyterian Village North residents, now meets monthly at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field to discuss aviation military history, and the residents truly benefit from participating.
“The group is so popular that Presbyterian Village North arranges for transportation for residents to attend the meetings,” said John Luckadoo, former emcee for Happy Warriors and a resident of Presbyterian Village North. “The meetings are held on the fourth Friday of each month at 11:00 a.m. Attendees bring their lunches and we share stories while we eat, and at noon we head to the auditorium for a special program led by a fellow member or guest speaker. I have spoken on my aviation experiences at quite a few meetings. Happy Warriors has influenced my life greatly. Having led the group for many years, I recently passed the baton to Mike Ellis, an avid WWII history fan.”
Presbyterian Village North (PVN) is home to more than 85 veterans, plus another 55 ladies who are surviving spouses of veterans. There’s a gold mine of history within PVN. In addition to arranging transportation for veterans to and from Happy Warriors, the senior living community will host a special Veterans Day celebration which will start at 10:30 a.m. on November 11th. Colonel Robert Lanham, former Mayor of Fightertown, will be the guest speaker. Ron Kelly, executive director for Presbyterian Village North, and three veterans will also speak during the program. The JROTC from Franklin Junior High will be presenting the colors. More than 200 people in the Dallas area attended this event last year, and they expect higher attendance this year.
“As the years roll by, we are rapidly losing more and more veterans who served during WWII, and pretty soon we won’t have the opportunity to hear their stories firsthand,” said Luckadoo. “That’s why Happy Warriors and Veterans Day celebrations are so important. We are preserving living history; we are continuing to share the stories and let younger generations know of the sacrifices that were made to ensure the freedom they enjoy today. They have a great appreciation for what we did and delight in hearing our stories. We have given presentations to church groups, school children, Rotary Clubs and many more who wanted to hear about our service experiences. Happy Warriors is free and open to the public because of the Flight Museum’s generosity – for which we are eternally grateful. We welcome anyone who has experience with or an appreciation for WWII history. If you simply want to learn more about military history and hear captivating stories you have never heard before, we welcome you too.”
Luckadoo was a B17 pilot in the 8th Air Force in England during WWII, and he served for a little more than six years in the U.S. Air Force. He learned to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that when your country calls on you to serve, you are obligated to do so. He recalls being expected to put his life on the line, not having any say about his destiny and learning to acknowledge that whatever the circumstances dictated, you just had to respond. Luckadoo completed 25 missions, a rare feat seeing as the average lifespan for a B17 airman was 11 missions. Once he completed 25 missions, he was allowed to come back to the United States and became a flight instructor to help other young pilots learn how to survive in combat. He says that there was not any rhyme or reason for one person to survive and another to die. It was simply a matter of luck−hence Luckadoo’s nickname “Lucky.”
“Every time we went out on a mission we did not know if we were coming home,” said Luckadoo. “Your first time in battle is a sobering experience, as you instantly learned that you would face death on a daily basis. We were all around 21 years old, and we had to grow up and mature rapidly. These experiences change you, and you are never quite the same as a result. We went out every day in mass formation trying to prove the theory of strategic bombing, which was actually pretty foolhardy considering our formidable enemy opposition. We did not face good odds. Each mission I would watch my buddies die around me, and I kept surviving. I went through 25 missions dealing with this kind of pain. I had to convince myself that what I was doing was worthwhile, it was patriotic, and it was necessary because Nazi ideology could not be endured, and it was up to us to step up and end it.”
John Luckadoo has received a Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, and last year, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor for his service. He has kept a scrapbook from his service with a number of pictures of his crew and his days spent flying in England. He also has photos of combat, as well as his flight jackets and flight suit. In 2012 he was invited to accompany 12 Air Force Academy cadets to visit the old U.S. Air Force airbases in England and then to Normandy for the 68th anniversary of D-Day. In 2014 he also attended the 70th anniversary of D-Day and was an honored guest in the household of a French family for nine days. He also participated in the Freedom Flight, hosted by American Airlines, which took 60 veterans and 60 school children to Washington, D.C. to visit the WWII war memorials. Currently, Luckadoo volunteers at the Historical Aviation Collections at The University of Texas at Dallas, furthering his knowledge of military aviation.
Stories and experiences, both sobering and lighthearted, are shared at the Happy Warrior meetings. Around 100 to 125 people usually attend each meeting, though the rosters have exceeded more than 300 attendees in years past. During the 1990s, the Happy Warriors began meeting at Wyatt’s Cafeteria on Forest and Marsh when the organization’s membership grew hugely. The participants would go through the line, file into a private dining room and dive into WWII aviation history. When the cafeteria closed they began meeting in the Parish Hall of Trinity Episcopal Church on Hillcrest and Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway. Eventually the group ended up convening at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in 2005, as one of the members had a connection there and felt the location to be more appropriate for their large group. Luckadoo was the master of ceremonies for several years as the group has no formal organization, but has recently passed the baton to Mike Ellis.
“I was honored when John approached me about leading the Happy Warriors group,” said Ellis. “I collaborate with Chuck Hodge, an oral historian, to schedule programming and guest speakers. Since I took over we have decided to open the invitation for any enthusiast to join. A few of us are not veterans, but we have a true appreciation for what these vets have done. Their stories are both riveting and captivating. My father served in WWII and Korea, and he served as lead police escort the day President Kennedy was assassinated, so I can relate through his experiences.”
During its last meeting, the Happy Warriors talked about daylight high-level precision bombing using the Norden bombsight and how effective it was compared to the number of lives lost. Luckadoo and Harvey Cragon, author of How the Norden Bombsight Works, a book written on the Norden bombsight, and B17 bombardier Pat Spillman, led the discussion. For the October meeting, Carroll Glines, who has written more than 30 books on aviation and WWII, will lead the program. He is an official Honorary Jimmy Doolittle raider and was picked by Jimmy Doolittle to serve as his official biographer for the Doolittle Raiders group.
“To be able to sit down and visit with people who unselfishly served to maintain the freedom of this country is a very special opportunity,” said Ellis. “These vets are living military history, and their experiences can teach us how to face problems in the future. Honestly, the most rewarding part of Happy Warriors is the fellowship we all experience by spending time with quality, likeminded individuals. These men had to face devastating circumstances daily, and they did it with pride. It’s fun to “shoot the breeze,” and all kinds of stories get told. As we bring in other generations it is fascinating to hear how technology, design, training and policies have all changed in regard to aviation over the years.”
“Life is about little connections, and we recognize how meaningful it is for these vets and history buffs to come together to reminisce and swap tales,” said Ron Kelly, executive director of Presbyterian Village North. “We coordinate a bus trip every month to make sure that residents interested in attending Happy Warriors have a stress-free way to attend the meetings. We enjoy hearing their stories, and we know others delight in hearing their experiences first-hand as well. We have more than 85 veterans who reside at PVN, plus another 55 ladies who are surviving spouses of veterans. There’s a gold mine of history within our community. We are eager to commemorate their service and celebrate their milestones at our annual Veterans Day celebration.”