102-Year-Old John “Lucky” Luckadoo Sends Chills Down Our Spines with his Memories of War
written by Todd DePastino
We’ve heard a lot of chilling stories, beautifully told, but John “Lucky” Luckadoo, who served as a B-17 co-pilot and survived 25 missions with the famously unlucky 100th Bomb Group, made our jaws drop and sent chills down our spines with his sharp comments about Bomber Command and the gruesome dangers of flying missions over Germany.
Below, I’ve cued up two moments in our February 1, 2023 “Masters of the Air” conversation with Lucky. The first is two minutes, the second is less than two minutes.
Keep in mind, as you listen, that Lucky will turn 102 in March. May we all have such eloquence and perception at any age.
“We Were Guinea Pigs”
“That’s The Way We Went to War”
Regardless of skills or circumstances, Lucky says, survival was ultimately a matter of luck. His motivation throughout the war remained grounded in the belief that they were serving a cause to defend their values and freedom, considering it their patriotic duty to answer the call to arms. As a B-17 co-pilot, John “Lucky” Luckadoo describes the grim realities faced during missions, including witnessing bloodshed and the loss of comrades. Flying in extreme conditions took a psychological toll, with temperatures plummeting to -50 to -60 degrees Celsius at high altitudes in unpressurized cabins. Not to mention the constant threat from enemy fighters and flak. Lucky candidly talks about combat fatigue and how it affected some of his comrades. The sheer terror, horror, and chaos of combat took a toll on individuals, leading to psychological breakdowns.
As the operations officer, he evaluated the capability of squadron members to identify signs of combat fatigue. Unlike the British, who punished those refusing to fly, the Eighth Air Force took a more philosophical approach, recognizing the mental strain of combat. Reflecting on his mentality before his first combat mission, Luckadoo emphasized the sense of duty and patriotism that motivated him. The belief that they were serving a cause greater than themselves, defending their country and principles, kept him focused on the job despite the challenges.
One remarkable and harrowing mission Luckadoo recounted was the planned raid on Berlin led by General Curtis LeMay. The mission, intended to be the first daylight raid on Berlin, was of utmost importance. However, it got scrubbed due to cloud cover dispersing over the target, losing the element of surprise. Despite the cancellation, Luckadoo revealed the gravity of the situation and how it symbolized the intense nature of their missions. Luckadoo also shared his experiences as a tail gunner, a position he reluctantly took during a lead crew designation. The challenges of communication and the impracticality of the role led him to refuse further assignments in the tail, grounding himself for a period. Another critical moment in Luckadoo’s wartime journey was his toughest mission over Bremen. Flying with a new crew after his original crew completed their tour, he faced intense flak and witnessed a fellow squadron member’s plane being rammed by a German fighter. The mission tested his resolve, and surviving it left a lasting impact on him.
“We were young citizen-soldiers, terribly naive and gullible about what we would be confronted with in the air war over Europe and the profound effect it would have upon every fiber of our being for the rest of our lives. We were all afraid, but it was beyond our power to quit. We volunteered for the service and, once trained and overseas, felt we had no choice but to fulfill the mission assigned. My hope is that this book honors the men with whom I served by telling the truth about what it took to climb into the cold blue and fight for our lives over and over again.” –John “Lucky” Luckadoo, Major, USAF (Ret.) 100th Bomb Group (H)