Like a lot of other young men his age, Ed Lukach wanted to be a pilot when he signed up at 19 for the Army’s Aviation Cadet Program in 1942 near the start of World War II.
“They made a bombardier out of me because I had much better depth perception than most people,” the 89-year-old former aviator, who lives in Sandhill Gardens apartment complex in Port Charlotte, Fla., said. “After living in a nice, big hotel on Miami Beach and talking basic training in February on the beach I was sent to Jamestown, N.D., where it was cold, in March 1944 to learn how to be a bombardier.”
Lukach flew to England aboard a B-17 “Flying Fortress” with his first crew by way of the Northern Route: Bangor, Maine; Labrador; Greenland, Scotland and finally they landed at an airbase near North Hampton. They were part of the 305th Bomb Group, 422 Bomb Squadron of the 8th Air Force.
“We flew our first mission in July 1944 and our last one on March 9, 1945,” the former first lieutenant explained. “The one I remember best was the one we flew to Berlin on March 2, 1945. It was our 28th combat mission. We had only two more to fly.
“On that mission I was the bombardier in the lead bomber for our squadron. The 8th Air Force was headed for Berlin and we were the first plane out. Our assignment was to eliminate the German anti-aircraft batteries on the approach to the target,” he said.
“It was a clear day over Berlin and I was sighting our targets with my Norden bomb sight when I happened to look up and see the B-17 leading the whole armada flip over and disappear. All the highest ranking officers in our bomb group when down with the bomber,” Lukach said.
“We were flying at 27,000 feet with a strong head wind. I centered the bomb sight on the red flashes on the ground below us. They were German 88 anti-aircraft guns shooting at us,” he noted. “I dropped my bombs and saw them hit the target area right were they were supposed to hit. Because I did such a good job destroying the German gun emplacements I received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
“One of my jobs after the bomb run was to go through the plane and make sure everyone was okay. When I didn’t get a response from our tail gunner I went back and checked on him. I could see he had been hit by a piece of flak and was dead,” Lukach said.
Beside dangerous combat flights, bomber crews had to cope with flying in fog on a daily basis during the second world war.
“I don’t remember what mission it was, but we were flying back from one mission and all of England was fogged in. Our airbases were so close and we were landing so many planes at a single base it could get scary. Since I rode in the nose I could see everything that was happening in front of us.
“On this mission we were flying so close in the fog the wings of our plane almost touched the one beside us at times. When I got on the ground I found out one of the B-17s in our squadron had collided with another one and an entire 10-man crew was lost,” he said.
About a month after completing his 30 combat missions, Lukach took the Queen Elizabeth back to the States and landed in New York City.
“On April 12, 1945, the day before we reached the USA, FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) died. We arrived in port on Friday, April 13, 1945,.” Lukach said. “I went to Fort Dix, N.J. and got a few weeks leave. I returned to Atlantic City, N.J. on VE-Day (Victory in Europe) May 8, 1945.
“I requested to go to pilot school. They were making arrangements to send me to school. Then someone in authority came to me and said, ‘Would you rather get out of the service?’ You know what my answer was,” he said with a smile more than 65-years later.
It wasn’t long after he was discharged from the Air Force Lukach married Mary, his first wife. For the next decade or so he worked as an auto mechanic. His wife taught school in the last one-room school house in Westchester County, N.Y.
For several years he went from working on truck engines to being the person in charge of a fleet of school buses for a couple of New York State school districts. Later in life he got into the real estate business and sold property in New York state.
Mary died in 1987 after two years of declining health. Lukach spent most of the next 20 years living by himself until he got engaged to Alice, his second wife. She had been his first wife’s best friend in school. He and Alice married and moved to Port Charlotte in 2001. She died in 2007.
Lukach and Mary have two children: Edward and Irene.
Name: Edward C. Lukach
D.O.B: 17 Nov. 1922
Hometown: Marlboro, NY
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 2 Oct. 1942
Discharged: 17 March 1944
Rank: Aviation Cadet
Unit: 305th Bomb Group H
Commendations: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal w/4 Clusters, Good Conduct medal, American Campaign Medal, European-Pacific-Middle East Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Berlin, Europe
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 and is republished with permission.
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