The 1000 Mile War: The Aleutian Islands
From 1944 to 1945, TSGT Nathan Luger was sent to one of the most remote islands in the world. Attu Island is at the end of the Aleutian chain and is 1500 air miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. It holds the distinction of being the only WWII land battle in North America. The Japanese occupied the island in June 1942 after the Battle of Midway. In May 1943 U.S. troops landed on Attu and eventually recaptured the island after heavy fighting that ended with one of the largest banzai charges of WWII. Out of the 1000 Japanese troops who began the charge, only 28 remained alive.
Nathan was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 27, 1919. He joined the Army in May 1938 and was sent to Ft. Dix, New Jersey for basic training. He then joined the 112th Field Artillery HD in what was to be the Army’s last horse drawn artillery unit. He decided to transfer to the Army Air Corp and would be trained as a Morse code/radio operator and a waist gunner. Based out of Columbia Air Base in South Carolina, his crew would practice bombing targets along Myrtle Beach.
Nathan was assigned to the 11th Air Force, 77th Bomb Squadron on a Mitchell B-25 which typically consisted of a crew of only 5 or 6 men. They flew numerous missions out of Attu when the harsh weather would permit. He recalled that they “lost lots of planes and crew members due to the bad weather” and that “the weather was so bad that sometimes they could only fly once a month.” He would recall that they “dropped bombs on Kuriles, Tirishima and other islands and dropped propaganda leaflets on Kiska.” Due to the long distance of the bombing runs, his plane could “only carry 6 bombs instead of the usual 12. They needed to replace the extra bombs to make room for extra fuel.”
One day, one of the radio tower guys came to Nathan and asked him if he could take his place on one of the flights. Nathan cleared it with his crew chief and his replacement took off on a mission. It turned out to be a bit more than he bargained for. Nathan said he had gone on numerous missions by this time without incident. However, when the flight came in and the landing gear wouldn’t come down, they had to do a “belly landing.” He said “the shook up radio tower guy never asked to go on a flight again!”
When the Pacific War ended in September 1945, Nathan returned to the U.S. where he joined the reserves to “get my 20 years in.” He was eventually reassigned to South Plains Army Airfield where some B17’s were being retired and was “put in charge of the paperwork for the infirmary.” He met his wife Connie in Lubbock and they were married in the chapel at Reese Air Force Base. Nathan wanted to take his new West Texas bride “back home to Brooklyn”. She was very unhappy and homesick in New York. Nathan wisely decided “to keep his new wife happy”, so after one year they returned to Lubbock for good. They had two girls and a boy. Nathan retired from the Air Force in May 1958 at the highest enlisted rank, Chief Master Sergeant. He worked for Toledo Scale for a time and then opened his own shop called Luger Scale Service. He retired in 1974 when I-27 was being built and he was “bought out by the government.” After nearly 50 years of marriage, Connie passed away in 1995. While playing dominoes with friends in 1998, Nathan was introduced to Marci Dodd, a widow, whose husband, Don (a 10 year Air Force veteran), had also passed away in 1995. Neither was “in a hurry to get married”, but after seeing each other for 7 years, they tied the knot in September 2006.
Nathan went on the 2012 Texas South Plains Honor Flight and said it was a “great experience and enjoyed visiting with his fellow veterans.” Toward the end of our visit, Nathan showed me that he was a “card carrying member of the ‘I bombed Japan’ club.” Looking back on his time during WWII, he simply said he was “just glad when the war was over.”
Respectfully submitted by
Larry A. Williams
Veteran Liaison Co-Chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight