Flag flies for George Luce

Flag flies for George Luce photo

In continuing its mission to take history out of the textbooks by honoring a local veteran each month of the school year, the Hampton Bays School District is paying tribute to U.S. Navy veteran George Luce by flying an American flag in his honor throughout the month of March.

“The district is proud to honor Mr. Luce for his bravery and service to the United States,” said Superintendent of Schools Lars Clemensen. 

Luce was recognized on March 15 with a ceremony at Hampton Bays Elementary School, during which middle school students read his biography. 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 U.S. and graduated from Trinity-Pawling School, a college preparatory school in Pawling, New York, before heading to attend Northwestern University.

A short time later, Luce returned to Long Island and worked for his father in the hardware business in Riverhead. In December 1957, he enlisted in the Army Reserve, and in spring 1958, he received orders to report to Camp Drum in upstate New York. Luce did not 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. 

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. 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 up with 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.

He 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, Luce returned to San Diego and eventually transferred to Whidbey Island in Seattle, Washington. By this time, his original enlistment was up, and he agreed to an enlistment extension if the Navy agreed to send him back to Japan. The Navy delivered, and Luce was back in 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 air space, they flew out of there very quickly. 

Luce 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 he is most proud of is his Aircrew Badge. He returned to Riverhead and used his GI Bill benefits to complete his 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. 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 worked 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.