On the morning of Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, William “Bill” D. Lutgen passed away after a long illness, while at the Halifax Health Hospice in Deland, Fla. Bill was 84 years old.
Bill was known for his competitive spirit, as well as his great sense of humor. For him, many things were a contest. Whether it was a round of golf or buying a car, Bill approached challenges with enthusiasm. He was equally energetic in recounting stories, most of which involved flying, a humorous event, or both.
He was born Nov. 29, 1929, in St. Cloud, Minn. Bill looked up to his father, who owned his own automotive store. Athletic and smart, Bill was the little guy who did well at playing hockey because he always played smarter and tried a little harder. Bill had no trouble keeping up with the big kids.
Bill joined the Navy in January 1949. He initially served as his ship’s chief personnel specialist and paralegal, so he got to know just about everyone coming aboard or departing the ship.
Having done a characteristically fine job, he received quite a send-off in 1953 when he left his ship for the last time. As he walked off the gangplank onto the dock, Bill turned to see the entire crew standing on deck, clapping and cheering. In his typically self-effacing manner, Bill often joked that they were either really glad to see him go, or they were wishing him the best on his next journey — pilot training with the U.S. Air Force.
Bill served for nearly two decades as a fighter pilot, flying many of the Air Force’s premier aircraft. In addition to piloting F-86 and F-100 Sabrejets, Bill also flew the A-37, better known as the Dragonfly.
Bill led his unit, the 64th Air Commando, to Vietnam in 1967 to employ this experimental aircraft for the first time in combat. Not only did his unit perform brilliantly during its deployment from 1967 to 1968, Bill also distinguished himself as an exceptional pilot. Bill displayed remarkable courage while conducting close-air support missions, including instances when his cockpit glass was shattered by enemy fire.
Bill earned 18 Air Medals. Even more significant, Bill earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses, one of the nation’s highest awards for heroism.
Bill also earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska before he retired from the Air Force in 1970, after more than 21 years of military service.
Bill’s love of flying continued with his service as part of the Federal Aviation Administration. He enjoyed his service with the FAA, where he continued in roles similar to those he had performed in the Air Force.
Bill’s time in the Air Force as a senior investigator for the Inspector General’s office greatly enhanced his skills as an FAA flight inspector. Yet, one of Bill’s favorite roles was as a pilot examiner. This role enabled him to combine his love of flying with his desire to help others learn and develop their own abilities.
Had Bill not devoted his professional life to public service, he would have excelled as a salesman. “The Art of the Deal” would not have been written by Donald Trump — Bill would have written it first.
Whether it was a pair of shoes, an antique car or a house, Bill loved to negotiate. He excelled at the art of getting to know his customer, and did so in a genuine manner. He was so sincere that enduring friendships would sometimes result from his business transactions.
After his retirement from the FAA, Bill continued to value his service, particularly with the military. He remained a supporter of several veterans organizations, including the American Legion, the F86 Pilots Association, the Order of Quiet Birdmen and the Military Officers Association of America.
Bill is survived by his wife, Patricia; and sisters, Charlotte Hines, Mary Schneider and Jacqueline Kelly. He is also survived by his children, daughter Mary Heery and her husband, Bill, daughter Jan Lutgen and her husband, Carl Linz, son John Lutgen and his wife, Clara, son Will Lutgen and his wife, Patricia, daughter Jeannie Bakker and her husband, Mark, stepdaughter Tricia and her husband, Sean, and stepdaughter Allison and her husband, Chris; as well as 11 grandchildren.
Services: A Funeral Mass with military honors will be held at Saint Peter’s Catholic Church, on New York Avenue in Deland, Fla., on Monday, Jan. 20, at 10 a.m.