100th ARW Airmen meet legendary heroes of WWII at 100th BG reunion in Savannah

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Living legends of the 100th Bomb Group, Capt. John “Lucky” Luckadoo, 351st Bomb Squadron pilot, and Lt. Jim Rasmussen, 349th Bomb Squadron navigator, were both stationed at Thorpe Abbotts, Norfolk, England, during World War II.

The 100th Bomb Group was part of Eighth Air Force, founded in Savannah, Georgia, and went on to become the greatest air armada the world has ever seen. It also became the foundation for the mission of today’s U.S. Air Force.

That heritage came full circle May 25 to 29, 2023, when those legendary World War II veterans – Luckadoo reached 101 earlier this year, and Rasmussen is now 99 – met with some of today’s Airmen from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at the 100th Bomb Group reunion, held at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Savannah.

Hosted by the 100th Bomb Group Foundation, the reunion has been regularly held for more than five decades, bringing together survivors of the original 100th BG and their families. At the 2023 reunion, Airmen and civilians from RAF Mildenhall were welcomed with hugs, animated conversation, and the sharing of stories of active-duty service old and new. Long-time volunteers from the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, Thorpe Abbotts – who have dedicated decades to preserving the stories and memories of the American involvement in World War II – also attended this year’s reunion. Several generations of multiple family members of veterans also attended.

“It’s extremely humbling to be able to meet the heroes who came before us,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Chamberlin, 100th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations and KC-135 Stratotanker instructor pilot. “The effort and care that the 100th Bomb Group Foundation has put into maintaining the legacy of the 100th Bomb Group, is incredible; it’s a legacy that we at the 100th Air Refueling Wing embrace and appreciate. It’s an honor to be here with so many who understand the importance of the Bloody Hundredth and everything they did during World War II.

“Lucky Luckadoo and Jim Rasmussen are such personable and wonderful people to talk to,” he remarked. “Their willingness to share their experiences with us is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to learn from these men, and it’s something I will always be thankful for.”

This year’s reunion included a vast number of exhibits preserving the history of both the 100th Bomb Group and many other Eighth Air Force squadrons, including an original, restored (non-flying) B-17 Flying Fortress, “City of Savannah.”

The Airmen representing RAF Mildenhall had the unique opportunity to go inside the B-17 and explore the treasured World War II aircraft.

“The incredibly tight confines inside the B-17 just reiterates the challenges and stresses from the environment these men faced, before and during combat,” Chamberlin said. “It’s amazing what they were able to go through and accomplish with what they had been given.

“Getting the opportunity of flying over the same skies that the 100th Bomb Group Airmen did during World War II really puts into perspective some of the operational challenges with respect of air space, formation sizes and coordination they had to go through to be effective and complete their missions – it’s really incredible to fly where these heroes once did,” he said.

Lucky Luckadoo spoke on his experiences and memories of the Bremen mission, reenactors presented a pre-mission briefing, and Elizabeth Murphy -- daughter of Capt. Frank Murphy, 100th BG navigator -- shared her father’s stories of the Munster mission and his time as a prisoner-of-war.

Additionally, the attendees participated in a ceremony known as “Flags for the Fallen,” which involved the emotional laying of 757 U.S. flags – one for each of the 100th BG Airmen lost during World War II – in the museum’s memorial garden by the veterans, families, 100th ARW members and other attendees. A total of 26,000 flags were placed over Memorial Day weekend, honoring all Airmen from Eighth Air Force who were lost or killed in action during World War II.

The RAF Mildenhall Airmen listened in awe as the 100th BG heroes regaled them with tales of their experiences and memories of life before, during and after World War II, and shared their own stories of life in today’s Air Force. Emotions ran high and everywhere one looked, eyes glistened as the survivors brought their stories to life as current U.S. Air Force Airmen gained a small insight into what military life was like back then.

The 100th Bomb Group earned its nickname of “The Bloody Hundredth” after enduring heavy losses during daylight bombing raids over Europe, from June to October 1943. The 100th ARW at RAF Mildenhall took on the nickname and the “Square D” to honor its proud heritage and keep alive the legacy of the brave Airmen from Thorpe Abbotts who fought in World War II.

“This is the most important reunion the 100th Bomb Group has had since the very first one, because right now we’re getting the next generation – and the next generation and the next generation after that,” said Mike Faley, 100th BGF historian. “The legacies of the 100th Bomb Group are coming out – we have one member who is 6 years old, and is the great-grandson of Frank Murphy. We’re also going to have the next generation of military, from the 100th Air Refueling Wing and the 351st Air Refueling Squadron, along with some from the Eighth Air Force, out of Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.

“Never, ever, has there been that collection of current military at a World War II bomb group reunion! That will be a first, and that will set the tone, and the legacy, of the 100th Bomb Group Foundation for the next 50 years – that’s how important this reunion is,” remarked Faley.

The veterans themselves were thrilled to meet their modern-day counterparts from the 100th ARW, and the volunteers from the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, who continue to keep the history alive.

“We always look forward to seeing the Airmen from RAF Mildenhall -- it’s nice to meet some younger people who are on active duty ,” said Rasmussen.

“I was chatting with one of the pilots who had parachute jump wings on, and told her that had been on my bucket list. She told me if I ever came over to England, she would take me up and we’d jump together -- but my wife immediately said ‘No!’ to that,” he chuckled.

Having the opportunity to meet the legendary heroes from the 100th BG made a huge impact on the team from the 100th ARW.

“The heritage of the Bloody Hundredth and their legacy gives us, as modern-day Airmen, something to aspire to,” remarked Chamberlin. “Their courage and dedication to the cause is what we should all aim to achieve; it’s what makes being an Airman in the 100th ARW so special,to be able to reach back to that legacy and carry on the traditions that they set for us.”