• This stained-glass window at Holy Ghost Lutheran Church honors WWII heroes who died during the war. — Photo by Mike barr

Sgt. Luckenbach comes home

LOOKING BACK AT ... Hindsights

When a native of Papua, New Guinea stumbled upon the wreckage of a B-24 bomber, he solved a 50-year-old mystery and helped bring Sgt. Elgin Luckenbach home to Texas.

Elgin Luckenbach was born on the family ranch near Luckenbach on Jan. 14, 1921, the son of Benno and Alma Braeutigam Luckenbach. He graduated from Fredericksburg High School, class of 1938.

Luckenbach volunteered for the Army Air Corps on June 10, 1942. He trained as a flight engineer in Texas, California, Nevada and South Carolina.

He was a handsome young man, especially in his dress uniform. He had blue eyes and brown, wavy hair. He hoped to marry his girlfriend, Alice Henke, when the war was over.

After training, Luckenbach left for overseas duty. His final destination was the air field at Nadzab, New Guinea.

He was an engineer on a B-25 until his group switched to the B-24 Liberator in 1944. In the spring of 1945, his plane, the Royal Flush, had a diverse crew of 11 that included Capt. Thomas Paschal from California, Lt. Frank Giugliano from New York, Lt. James Guillon from Texas, Lt. Leland Rehmet from Texas, Lt. John Widsteen from California, Sgt. Richard King from Georgia, Sgt. Willie Lowery from Pennsylvania, Sgt. Buster May from Texas, Sgt. Marshall Borofsky from Illinois, Sgt. Walter Harm from Pennsylvania and Sgt. Elgin Luckenbach from Texas.

On April 16, 1945, the Royal Flush left Nadzab for a bombing run over enemy targets near Hollandia. There were warnings of bad weather, but the ground troops needed air support. The mission went ahead as planned.

The weather held until the return trip when heavy clouds rolled in about 100 miles from home. At 2:45 in the afternoon the formation flew into a massive cloud bank that topped out at 30,000 feet.

Soon the situation was about as bad as it could get. Some of the planes got lost. The pilots and crew were young men barely out of their teens, flying in a terrible storm with zero visibility. Rain shorted out some of the radios.

As fuel ran low, some planes ditched. Other aircraft lost speed and altitude and just disappeared.

Some planes made it to Nadzab but had no radios. They landed without clearance, crashing into other planes on the ground.

At the end of the day, the Army Air Corps listed 37 planes as lost or damaged, none to enemy fire, and 54 crewmen killed or missing. That day, known as Black Sunday, saw the greatest noncombat aviation loss in all of World War II.

The Royal Flush dropped out of formation somewhere over the sea north of New Guinea. It never returned to base. The Army Air Corps listed Sgt. Luckenbach as missing in action.

After the war, a military board concluded that the plane went down over the water. The War Department notified Benno and Alma Luckenbach that their son had been killed in action.

The Army Air Corp awarded Sgt. Luckenbach the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.

The Fredericksburg Veterans of World War II donated two windows at the new Holy Ghost Lutheran Church to honor church members and heroes Bruno Wunderlich, Edgar Wittkohl, Alvin Moldenhauer, Andrew Frantzen and Elgin Luckenbach who died in the war.

But the story didn’t end there. Luckenbach’s journey wasn’t over yet.

In 2001, a native of Papua, New Guinea was chasing a wallaby when he discovered the wreckage of a B-24 in the jungle. A team of POW/MIA specialists from the U.S. Joint Accounting Command interviewed the man and surveyed the crash site. Sure enough, the plane’s tail numbers and other markings matched those of the Royal Flush.

Another team recovered human remains and other crew-related artifacts, including Luckenbach’s dog tags.

Luckenbach came home in 2006. His remains were buried with his parents in Greenwood Cemetery in Fredericksburg. Group remains that could not be identified were buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

David W. Braeutigam tells the story of Sgt. Elgin Luckenbach in his book “Royal Flush and Black Sunday, April 16, 1945.”

Michael Barr is a retired

teacher and principal, living in

Fredericksburg where he spends

time writing books, columns and

magazine articles. Contact him at

mikbarr@aol.com.

Fredericksburg Standard

P.O. Box 1639
Fredericksburg, TX 78624-4228
830-997-2155