In its continuing mission to honor a local veteran each month of the school year, the Hampton Bays School District is flying an American flag in tribute to U.S. Navy veteran George Luce throughout the month of March.
“The district is proud to honor Mr. Luce for his bravery and service to the United States,” Superintendent of Schools Lars Clemensen said during a ceremony for the vet, where middle school students read his biography, at Hampton Bays Elementary School on Friday, March 15. The event culminated with the raising of the flag on the school’s flagpole.
Born in Port Jefferson in 1936, Luce began his education in New York City and completed junior high school in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where his stepfather was on foreign assignment for a U.S. oil company. He returned to the States and graduated from Trinity-Pawling School, a college preparatory school in Pawling, NY before attending Northwestern University.
A short time later, Luce returned to Long Island and worked for his father at his Riverhead hardware business. In December 1957, he enlisted in the Army Reserve. In spring 1958, Luce received orders to report to Camp Drum in Upstate NY, but he didn’t think that was a good idea, so he did the seemingly impossible—he walked to a Navy recruiter and convinced him that be belonged in the Navy, not the Army. The transfer was granted.
Soon, a chief petty officer convinced Luce that his best assignment options were in Navy aviation, not sea duty. Luce agreed and was off to Bainbridge, Maryland for basic training. He was the last class out of Bainbridge; subsequent enlistees attended basic at the Great Lakes training facility. And his first assignment was at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. Luce had hopes to become a Navy cook.
After several months, he was shipped out to Norman, Oklahoma, for a five-week introduction to naval aviation. This was followed by a 22-week assignment in Memphis, Tennessee, where he completed all course requirements and passed the review board with a military occupational specialty in aviation electronics.
Luce never did get to be a Navy cook. After passing the board, he was transferred to VP-48, a seaplane squadron in San Diego, California, with aviation electronics responsibilities. He spent six months in California and was reassigned to Iwakuni, Japan, for another six months. Luce liked Japan.
After Japan, he returned to San Diego and eventually transferred to Whidbey Island in Seattle, Washington. By this time, his original enlistment was up, and Luce agreed to an enlistment extension if the Navy agreed to send him back to Japan. The Navy delivered, and he returned to Japan for two years as a radio operator on seaplanes. Their assignment was to use the slow, lumbering seaplanes to track shipping in and out of Shanghai in Communist China.
Luce remembers the Navy telling him they could be shot down by Chinese MiGs because the jets were too fast and the seaplanes too slow. During one mission, the pilot asked the navigator if he knew their location, which the navigator did not. The pilot said, “Look out the window and you can see Shanghai.” Realizing they were now in Chinese airspace, they flew out of there very quickly.
The veteran also remembers flying through a monsoon en route to the Philippines in 1960, and making petty officer second class, or an E-5.
Luce separated from service in July 1963. Of all his decorations, the one for which he is most proud is his Aircrew Badge. He returned to Riverhead and used his GI Bill benefits to complete undergraduate studies at LIU Riverhead, earning a Bachelor of Science in business.
He met his wife, Naudain, to whom he was married for 23 years before losing her in 1990. Naudain was a substitute teacher in Hampton Bays for many years, and a scholarship is awarded to outstanding students every year in her memory.
Luce worked in his father’s hardware business for a while, served as a teacher for Nassau BOCES and served on the maintenance crew for the Hampton Bays School District. He has four children—George Jr., Larry, Elizabeth and Amanda—and six grandchildren: Lee Ann, George, Robert, Olivia, Matthew and Phillip. Matthew and Phillip both attend the Hampton Bays schools.