In honor of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, the News-Sun is paying tribute to our veterans. This report, updated for this edition, first appeared in the San Pedro Valley News-Sun in June 2004.
“We made the jump on June 6, 1944, at 1 a.m., from about 500 feet, which meant our reserve parachutes couldn’t have been used if needed. It looked like a living hell below and we jumped right into the middle of it.”
That’s how the late Walter Lukasavage recalled D-Day at that time nearly 60 years to the day. Lukasavage, or “Luke” as he was known in the valley, was among combat veterans in the invasion of France in Normandy. Luke proudly emphasized he served in Co. I, 506th Parachute Infantry 101st Airborne Division, better known as the “Screaming Eagles.”
His memory was remarkable. He would recite graphic and dated information and in vivid detail.
“I volunteered for the paratroops on Sept. 28, 1942 and spent the first day at Camp Custer, Mich., doing KP duty,” Luke, 81, at the time of the interview, explained. “The second day I was on my way to Georgia for (paratroop) training. I just felt like I needed to do something to help my country and the thought of being a paratrooper seemed like a good way to serve.”
Luke’s recollections were not pleasant. He was always miffed why at 21, he was not among the nearly 4,000 Americans who died in the month of June in the invasion of France, which helped set the path for the liberation of Europe in its darkest hour.
“I don’t know how I survived,” he’d said. “It took us a day to dig ourselves out. Many men lost their lives in that attack. My partner got wounded and I ended up in a large ditch with German machine guns firing over me. I feel proud to have been able to serve my country so that people can live in freedom, but war is just a pure living hell. You can’t read about combat and expect to understand it, you have to be there as a part of it. We fought for 10 to 12 hours a day.”
In addition to Normandy, Luke also jumped in the Invasion of Holland on Sept. 17, 1944, and was wounded on Hell’s Highway five days later. He was honorably discharged Aug. 28, 1946.
Lukasavage was born to Lithuanian parents in Michigan on July 22, 1922. He was a Benson resident from 1993 up until the time of his death, July 13, 2013. Luke was 90.
Luke, who could be brutally honest, was active in VFW Post 6271, Vicente Manzo American Legion Post 45 and the Disabled American Veterans. An avid history buff, Luke returned to Normandy, where he paid his respects at the Normandy American Cemetery, one of 14 permanent World War II cemeteries and which he’d visited all.
“It’s beautiful over there,” he said, feeling proud of his role, which helped dismantle Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. He’s especially happy in the way World War II veterans are received in Normandy.
“He is one of the most patriotic people I’ve ever seen and is a super person,” noted then Benson VFW Commander Pete Wilharm. “He works hard at the post and lends a hand whenever we need it.”
Luke was proud to have served and even more proud he was able to waive his flag in his yard and which he did daily. He was easily noticed around town in his car painted up like an American flag.
Luke was a true patriot.