Legendary 100th BG, WWII pilot, joins 100th ARW to remember 80th anniversary of ‘Black Week’

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

“We never had time to grieve; you were just here today, gone tomorrow,” said retired-Maj. John “Lucky” Luckadoo, World War II and 100th Bomb Group B-17 pilot, as he shared stories of his most harrowing combat mission over Germany while stationed at RAF Thorpe Abbotts, Norfolk, England, on Oct. 8, 1943, nearly 80 years ago to the day.

Lucky, now 101 years old, is thought to be the only surviving 100th BG pilot from the original cadre. He made the journey back to his former base – where he first set foot in 1943, at age 20 – to once again walk the familiar territory and to honor those Airmen who gave the ultimate sacrifice. He joined senior leaders, Airmen and civilians from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, volunteers of the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, and family members of other 100th BG veterans in a special ceremony at the former base, now home to the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, to remember the 80th anniversary of “Black Week.”

Two days prior to the ceremony, Oct. 8, 2023, the veteran pilot was given a personal tour, in a World War II jeep, around the former taxiways and runways of the airfield he once flew out of. Along the way, he shared a few of his memories and stories, including how 80 years prior, on that very day and at that very time, he was flying over Bremen, Germany, on one of his 25 combat missions (the average was eight to 12).

“Black Week” occurred from Oct. 8 to 14, 1943, earning the name due to the heavy losses endured by Eighth Air Force. The Mighty Eighth lost 138 heavy bombers, 24 fighters and more than 1,400 Airmen to enemy action. The 100th BG itself suffered the tragic loss of 12 aircraft and 121 crew members over Germany. This was the week which also earned them the moniker “The Bloody Hundredth,” due the disproportionate number of losses it suffered on what was later known as the “Awful Eight” missions – three of which happened between Aug. 17 and Oct. 14, 1943.

On three of the eight missions, the 100th BG suffered a loss of 28 aircraft and 283 crew. Twenty-seven of the original 35 crews who arrived in England in June 1943, were killed, wounded or captured by Oct. 14, 1943 – just 109 days after their first mission.

Luckadoo was 19 years old when he joined the U.S. Army Air Force and became a pilot.

The World War II pilot laid a wreath at the control tower of Station 139 at Thorpe Abbotts, along with Col. Ryan Garlow, 100th ARW commander, whose step-grandfather, Tech. Sgt. James P. Scott, flew missions out of Thorpe Abbotts, and Chloe Melas, whose grandfather, Capt. Frank Murphy, was a B-17 navigator stationed at the former Norfolk air base.

“Just over 80 years ago, on Aug. 17, 1943, my step-grandfather took off in ‘High Life’ from hardstand number five, not too far from where we are now, and failed to return to base,” said Col. Ryan Garlow, 100th Air Refueling Wing commander. “’High Life’ was forced to crash land in Switzerland, where [he] was interred until his release in a prisoner exchange on Oct. 5, 1944.

“The first time I experienced the special relationship that the 100th Air Refueling Wing has with the 100th Bomb Group was during my first tour at RAF Mildenhall, when I was just a young captain. Even then, it was evident that the historic ties that bind our Airmen – both past and present – was something special,” he remarked. “So, you can imagine how honored I was when I was told that I would be taking command of the modern-day legacy of the Bloody Hundredth.”

Garlow explained that since taking command in July 2023, he has seen first-hand how strong the special relationship is between the 100th ARW, the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, and the 100th Bomb Group Foundation in the United States.

“What we have is unique and truly extraordinary, and I’m committed to continuing to strengthen our historic bonds even further going forward. The special bond I’m talking about isn’t limited to just the 100th [ARW], however. As you can see from those in attendance here today, there’s also a special bond amongst all of us who have ties to the Mighty Eighth Air Force of World War II.”

Speaking directly to Maj. Luckadoo, who was flying combat missions out of Thorpe Abbotts 80 years prior, Garlow said although everyone called the veteran “Lucky,” it was those in attendance who were the lucky ones.

“Your presence with us, 80 years after you once flew so many perilous missions from this base, is simply amazing, and I for one am truly honored to meet you and be in your presence,” said the commander. “Please allow me to say, on behalf of all the Airmen in the Bloody Hundredth, thank you for your service and sacrifice on behalf of our great nations. We are forever indebted to you and your generation – you are the reason we are all here today, to say ‘Thank you,’ and to remember.”

Lucky was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, March 16, 1922. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and joined the 100th Bomb Group as one of the original cadre of pilots. He served in both the 350th and 351st Bomb Squadrons and flew 25 combat missions.

“I cannot possibly convey to you the feelings that I’m having, after being here 80 years ago on this day, at this spot,” said Lucky. “What we, and my generation, did from this base has become legendary. We have become accidental members of history. We were so young, so innocent, so gullible, and we had no clue as to what we were going to face when we came over here and crossed swords with the very formidable Luftwaffe – the most powerful air force in the world [at the time.]

“We were citizen soldiers; college kids being thrust into this position, to defend the freedoms and values that we cherished so dearly. Those of us who are fortunate to still remain, have serious doubts on what the present generation is doing to our country – and I say this with great sadness and great trepidation as a warning that freedom is never free. It demands constant vigilance, protection and determination to preserve it, and we have to do everything in our power as individuals to do so, because we took an oath – and many of our countrymen take an oath – to protect our country from both [outside] and within. We all meet challenges, and certainly we were forced from this base 80 years ago, and I stand before you today merely because I was uncommonly blessed – with a guardian angel on each shoulder – to have survived. My comrades are the heroes; those who did survive are just ‘Damn Lucky!’ There’s no other way to explain it – we were just in the right place at the right time,” the 101-year-old veteran remarked.

Wreaths were laid near plaques on the wall of the Thorpe Abbotts control tower by Lucky, Garlow and Chloe Melas, granddaughter of Capt. Frank Murphy, 100th Bomb Group and 418th Bomb Squadron navigator. Melas was visiting from New York to share her grandfather’s story with Airmen and civilians at RAF Mildenhall and the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum.

Having the veteran “back home” to visit was very special for the volunteers at the 100th BG Memorial Museum, who work year-round to keep the memories and stories alive of those who were once stationed there during World War II.

“Meeting Lucky in Savannah [at the 100th Bomb Group Reunion, 2023] was a very special occasion, but to have him here, at Thorpe Abbotts, is just amazing,” remarked Debra Hubbard, 100th BG Memorial Museum chair of the board of trustees. “He’s visited us before, but to help support this amazing gentleman achieve his dream of returning to what was his home 80 years ago, exceeds any other experiences I’ve had during my time with the museum.

“Today [Oct. 13] we made history – again. Lucky stood on the roof of the tower and addressed the 351st Air Refueling Squadron as they received their patches. He told them how he stood here 80 years ago, waiting to see what planes returned in what had become known as ‘Black Week.’ To say I feel honored and blessed is an understatement – we will probably never experience this again,” said Hubbard emotionally. “And for most of our volunteers, who never thought they’d meet a veteran, well, they are in awe of the man! As for me, my heart is full and my eyes are tearful after this.”

The World War II pilot’s visit was visibly emotional for all in attendance, and the man himself shared how appreciative he was for everyone’s support.

“I thank each and every one of you for being here and commemorating the lives of those who came before us, and certainly my comrades, who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the freedoms that we enjoy today,” said Lucky.