Remembering Roy. O Lucke, a Patriotic American, in Honour of the Anniversary of his 100th. Birthday

Prolog. Roy O. Lucke was born on November 7, 1906 in Chicago, Illinois, USA, a second generation American but of 100% German stock. Shortly after his 16th birthday, he and a friend ran away to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station just north of Chicago. Despite his Midwestern American youth and central-German ancestry, he was always fascinated by the sea and hoped to make a career in the navy. His family had other plans, however, and his mother, upon learning where he was, went to the naval station to bring him home since he was too young to enlist without parental permission. On returning home, we was told that since he had demonstrated no interest in continuing formal education, he could pick up his tools and enter the building trades like all men in his family had done for generations.  And he did.

Fast forward to December 8, 1941. Like many Americans, he was outraged by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the previous day and was determined to fulfill his hope of almost 20 years earlier to serve his country in the US Navy. At the recruiting office, he was told that under existing rules, he was, at age 35, too old to be enlisted. The recruiter added that he suspected the rules would change rapidly, asked him to fill out some paperwork, and return later in the week.

On his return later that week he was told that the enlistment rules had indeed been changed and that he could join the navy. The recruiter then added that if he enlisted, he would be scheduled for basic training and then possibly some advanced training before he could join the fleet; it would be weeks if not months before he would be of real service. The recruiter mentioned that based on the previously completed paperwork it was noted that he was a building tradesman. The recruiter than said that while the news was all about the damage to the ships at Pearl Harbor, shore facilities had also been badly damaged. He said that if he wanted to do the most good for his country as soon as possible, he could do more as a civilian contractor doing what he already knew how to do rather than being training to be a sailor from square one.

An eighteen month contract was soon signed and he was sent documents to get him to Hawaii as soon as possible. He quickly got his affairs in order, said good bye to his wife and other family members and set off by train and passenger liner to Hawaii. He was there in time to celebrate Christmas: less than three weeks after his first contact with a recruiter. He was quickly put to work doing what he knew how to do: building and repairing buildings. Not spectacular work, but necessary both to repair damage from the surprise attack and also to begin the tremendous expansion of military facilities that would be taking place throughout the country. 

An Unexpected Turn.  After doing this for many weeks, he was asked by chance to go with a friend to watch the friend’s crew mount an antiaircraft gun on a ship docked in Pearl Harbor. Since he had yet to actually board a warship, he thought this would be an interesting activity for a day off. Away he went to see “the real navy” and to watch how guns were mounted. It seemed that this crew was having difficulties in making this particular mount work. The early action in the Pacific had shown that it was about impossible to have too many antiaircraft guns on a ship so almost every time a ship or boat went into the yard for a refit, efforts would be made to increase its antiaircraft arsenal. In this case, plans and reality were in conflict. After watching for some time, Roy Lucke made a suggestion as to how this mount might be accomplished. After being told (rather impolitely it was reported) to mind his own business, it became apparent that his suggestion just might work. After a lifetime of making things fit in homes and other structures, he had developed an eye and sense of how to do this, irrespective of the material or mechanism. The gun was soon mounted.

Conversations with the crew leader and his supervisors soon followed and it was determined that while shore facilities were still important, mounting antiaircraft guns was more important. Within a few months of general gun mounting (including being part of the massive effort to repair the Yorktown after her engagement in the Coral Sea so she could be sent to meet her fate at Midway), he was working full time to find ways to mount the newly arriving 40mm Bofors antiaircraft guns on any and all ships needing them. This, of course, included many of the vessels coming back from the battles in the Solomons. One of the other aspects of this new job was to make sure the new mounts worked under combat conditions. Therefore whenever a totally new mount or location was tried on any vessel, the installation crew would sail with the ship out to the gunnery ranges surrounding Hawaii to make sure the new mounts would stand up to those conditions and were not unnecessarily in the way of other shipboard activities. These test cruises included diving in a submarine (done once – he said that job could be taken by others in the future since he was convinced that the submarine was about to implode around him due to the noises it made), launching and recovering aircraft from a carrier, and going through any and all maneuvers that a ship might be called on to perform.

Sometimes these test cruises involved more than one day in which case the civilian workers were assigned bunks on the ship. Typically, since they were aboard for only a short time, and since they were not navy, their accommodations were usually bottom of the barrel. The one exception, and one that he spoke of with great appreciation, was a cruise on an RAN destroyer (name long since forgotten) that had sailed to Hawaii for a brief refitting. He thought that the Australian sailors had mistaken his crew for visiting members of a royal family. He found their courtesy, facilities offered, and even food were without equal (and the gun mount worked)!

The Pacific Adventure Ends. As the end of his eighteen month contract drew near, Roy Lucke was called in by his supervisor and a navy captain to discuss his future. He was offered a contract extension (with considerable pay raise) to keep doing what he was doing until the “end of the national emergency.” However, he was told that the best bet would be for them to enlist him into the navy make him a first class petty officer and still keep him doing what he was doing (forgoing any training at all except for a brief orientation). They said he would soon be a chief petty officer, could make a nice career of the navy, have all benefits of a service veteran, and would still likely not get reassigned from Pearl Harbor since he was so good at what he was doing.

By then it was approaching mid-1943 and the war was turning in favor of the Allies and Hawaii itself seem secure. He wrote his wife and asked her to join him in Hawaii – he described it as a true paradise and now a safe one. She refused, unwilling to leave job and family. His decision then was to go home and join the war effort on the home front. He was warned that he would probably then be drafted. He said that at 36 years old he thought that unlikely. 

The Next Phase. After being home only a couple of months, he was indeed drafted. He asked to go to the navy explaining his previous work there. He was told this draft was for the army only. He asked for the engineers due to his construction background. He was told he would be assigned based on the needs of the service following his basic training. Cutting and condensing several chapters of this biography, he was initially made a truck driver. On being shipped to Britain, he found himself recruited into a special company many of whose members were fluent in speaking and reading German. This company was to be sent to areas where breakthroughs were likely so they could seize papers and prisoners and gain whatever intelligence they could. 

Roy Lucke landed on Omaha Beach in the Normandy Invasion and subsequently earned six battle stars, two valorous decorations (Bronze Stars) and two wound medals (Purple Hearts), and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The low point of his service was being among those cut off during the Battle of the Bulge and celebrating (if that word can be used) Christmas huddling with a few comrades on the edge of the Heurtgen Forest near the Belgian town of St. Vith.

The war was eventually survived; he returned home to his wife and the building trades and started a family which includes me.  He passed on in 1995 at age 88.


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