My paternal grandfather, Elmer Kurtz Luckett, was a steam engineer from St. Louis, Missouri. Born on May 7, 1920, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve in October 1940, and was almost immediately activated for duty. He and nearly 300 other St. Louis-area Reservists were sent to San Diego and then Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where they were stationed on four different Wilkes-class destroyers. Grandpa was on the USS Chew. On December 7th, he and thousands of others were present when the Japanese began attacking Oahu.
Elmer served in the Naval Reserve throughout the duration of the War, and during that time he wrote hundreds of letters to his parents and to his future wife, Rose. He wrote many other letters to a variety of other friends and family members, but these are the ones that survived the end of the war. After my grandpa died in March 2018, I inherited his war correspondence, which consists of over 500 letters to his parents and to Rose, as well as several dozen letters from Rose that he kept in his ship locker.
I am writing a book about my grandpa’s war experiences based on these letters and my three-hour oral interview with him in 2014. His story is both unique and common. Although he did not storm the beaches in Normandy or charge up the mountain at Iwo Jima, he did serve on two different ships, witness Pearl Harbor, participate in the New Guinea campaign and the Battle of Leyte Gulf, travel the world, learn a trade, and meet the love of his life. His letters, which are observant, poetic, and incredibly well-written, paint a vivid picture of what life was like on a ship during World War II. They chronicle the growth, maturation, and increasing worldliness of a young man who like so many others experienced so many things in such a short amount of time.
This blog is a result of my own journey to read, analyze, and understand these letters, and to then fit them together with Elmer’s own story and the bigger picture events happening during the War. Much of this material and information will end up in the book in one form or another, but the blog itself is intended to be a standalone project. I will continue writing about his life in short chunks – usually a month or two at a time – until I reach his discharge date in October 1945.
Below is a list of blog entries in chronological order. If you’d like to read from the beginning, click here and then at the bottom the post click on the “Next Entry” link. Once you’re all caught up, please follow my blog to get regular updates on this series, as well as other things I’ve got in the hopper.
Thanks for reading! – Matt