Pine Islander Luken honored by Lehigh Legion
Mack Luken was one of two Pine Island World War II veterans that were honored at a luncheon at American Legion Post 323 in Lehigh Acres last month. Luken received a ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ for his service.
Luken served in the Navy Reserves/Merchant Marine on Liberty ships during World War II. The United States Merchant Marine is the fleet of U.S. civilian merchant vessels that was used to transport goods and troops to and from Europe. In times of war the Merchant Marine acts as an auxiliary of the U.S. Navy.
William Malcolm Luken was born on April 21, 1924, in the Florida tobacco country of Quincy, Fla., to Cora and Eva Luken. Three years after his birth his mother died while giving birth to his sister.
“My father was gone and I only saw him three times in my whole life,” Luken said. “He died when I was in my 40s.”
Like it was for many young men at the time, the attack on Pearl Harbor inspired Luken to serve his country.
“I remember when I heard about Pearl Harbor,” Luken said. “We all joined after Pearl Harbor was attacked – you couldn’t wait to get in and fight for our country. I joined the Navy on Dec. 27, 1942, and was sworn in Jan 2, 1943. We caught a bus to Jacksonville and then a train to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland.”
Luken was on the train when it derailed near the Georgia line.
“When the train got to the Georgia line they were working on the track and the train derailed,” Luken said. “The cars were piled up almost vertical and all I had on was a T-shirt, pair of pants and socks. You couldn’t even squeeze your arm into the car it was so crushed.”
Uninjured and undaunted, Luken continued his training.
“After basic I wanted to be a pilot but I didn’t have the education,” Luken said “In the Merchant Marine I was a gunner and a painter. I spent my first year in the North Atlantic. We carried supplies, soldiers and even WACS (Women’s Army Corp) to England. Coming back we transported German POW’s. We faced German fighter planes and submarines in those crossings. My last year we were in the Mediterranean.”
One of Luken’s shipmates was from Boston.
“He took me home to meet his sister and three days later we got married,” Luken said.
Luken was discharged from the Navy in San Diego in October 1946.
“I drove my 1936 Lafayette automobile from San Diego, California, to High Springs, Florida,” Lukens said. “We were traveling Highway 10 and I couldn’t drive over 40 miles an hour.
“In High Springs I worked as a fireman on the railroad,” he continued. “Then I painted cars and finally made my living as a truck driver of an 18-wheeler.”
After retiring, Luken found his way to Pine Island when his son purchased property on the island.
“After my wife passed away, my son suggested I come live here,” Luken said. “That was 13 years ago and I’ve been here ever since.”
Last month, Luken and other veterans were honored at a luncheon at Lehigh Acres’ American Legion Post 323. Each of the veterans was awarded a “Service to America” certificate. Luken’s certificate reads:
Service to America
to William “Mack” Luken
“In recognition of your love, patience, courage determination and resourcefulness in serving America as a member of a U.S. Armed Forces Family. Your devotion to your family and your country upholds the highest traditions of service to loved ones, the military and the United States of America.”
“On behalf of the 4 million members of the American Legion family, thank you for your sacrifice, commitment and patriotism.”
“They had veterans from all of the wars from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and more recents wars,” Luken said. “But only two of us from World War II. It was great to be there with the people who have served our country and a wonderful experience to receive the certificate of appreciation.”