Goodwin Luck's air rescue exploits as a World War II fighter pilot were featured on the "This Is Your Life" TV show when Ronald Reagan was guest host in 1957.
Luck, 94, of Edina, died last week of liver failure. He was a Marine Corps pilot in the South Pacific. He later worked 35 years for Northwest Airlines before retiring as chief aeronautic engineer in 1980.
Luck piloted a J2F Duck Biplane that flew behind Japanese lines in the Solomon Islands to rescue a stranded Navy officer in August 1943. The rescued sailor, Lt. Hugh Miller, appeared with Luck and his crew on "This Is Your Life" in January 1957, said his son, Stephen Luck, 63, who saw the show. (Regular host Ralph Edwards was ill.)
Miller swam ashore to Arundel Island after his destroyer, the U.S.S. Strong, was sunk by Japanese torpedoes. He sniped at the Japanese, swiped their rations and survived 44 days until an American pilot spotted him waving on the shore. Miller's story and Luck's rescue effort were featured in the article, "Battle of Arundel Island," in Life magazine on Nov. 8, 1943, and in other magazines.
Reagan wasn't the only future president Luck ran across. Before rescuing Miller, he obtained fuel for his plane from a PT109 boat commanded by John F. Kennedy. Shortly thereafter, the boat was demolished by a Japanese destroyer, according to Marine Wings, a book of Marine aviator stories written by Luck and 23 other pilots of the Minnesota Marine Air Reserve.
Luck's chapter said he and two crewmen landed his pontoon-equipped plane in the sea near Arundel Island, and was within range of a Japanese air base on a nearby island. They suspected a trap, but figured the stranded man was American because he had a red beard. A crewman rowed through coral reefs on an inflatable raft and retrieved Miller.
As they reached the plane, Japanese soldiers appeared on shore and began firing rifles at them. Another crewman used a hand crank to start the engine.
"Dad said he was praying he didn't drop the crank in the water," said Stephen Luck.
They took off for the nearby Munda Island. After they landed, Japanese artillery started shelling the air strip, and shrapnel hit the plane.
"Dad said when they got back to Munda, they counted 99 bullet holes in the plane," Luck said.
The son said his father was an avid hunter and fisherman, and a man with high moral standards. "He was a straight shooter kind of a guy," he said. "He treated everybody fair."
At Northwest, his father oversaw work on jet engines and investigated accidents. "He, basically, kept them flying," Luck said. His father was a member of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.
"He was a war hero," said fellow marine pilot Sherm Booen, 96, who hosted the "World of Aviation" TV show on WCCO for 28 years. "He was a delightful guy, very laid back and quiet."
In addition to Stephen, of Edina, Luck is survived by a daughter, Betsey Rasmussen, of Littleton, Colo.; four grandchildren; two great-grandchildren, and a sister, Lucille, of Fort Collins, Colo.
Services have been held.
Jim Adams • 612-673-7658