High Desert Hangar Stories: Lockheed remembers one of its own – Part One

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Visalia Union High school graduate Joseph MacKenzie Fluty.

We will never see another conflict like the one we had in World War II, because life and technology have moved forward since that time.

Looking back at the way things were yesterday, it’s hard to imagine the everyday life of Americans during that incredibly trying time. One thing that will never change is that lives will always be in peril when conflicts arise around the world and sacrifices will always be the benchmark of how we as a nation measure the value of our freedoms. In World War II, that sacrifice was a daily occurrence and was felt not just by family and friends, but by a nation which also mourned each and every loss. Even the everyday worker had a special place in the chain of remembering the fallen.

On March 8, 1944, a young Californian from Visalia enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He earned his commission in the Army Air Corps in March; flew his last mission in Europe in a Lockheed P-38 Lightning in March, and was memorialized by Lockheed on March 28. Seeing as it’s now March, I felt it was meant to be that I should share this story this month.

First Lt. Joseph L. “Mack” Fluty, the young 22-year old decorated fighter pilot, had a short life compared to many. On that day of destiny when he took off in his P-38 (named “Here’s Hoping,” with a four-leaf clover painted on it), little did he know that by day’s end another P-38 would be destined to carry on for him. Crashing into a field in a damaged aircraft upon returning to his base, Mack had done everything that was expected of him by his country and fellow airmen, having completed 30 missions over Europe during his career, with some missions flown all the way to Berlin and back. In the process, he had performed acts of bravery and aided in the support of fellow fliers whose planes had been damaged, allowing them to safely return to base or friendly airstrips. On one mission, with one hand rendered useless due to frostbite, he flew top-cover for a damaged flight of fighters that were under attack by enemy aircraft. With one hand he did his best and the four damaged aircraft all made it safely back to friendly fields, thanks to his dedication to his task.

First Lt. Mack Fluty flew with the 343rd Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group, part of the 8th Air Force 55th fighter group in the European Theater during World War II.

Mack loved his P-38 and it was the aircraft he wanted to fly the most, because he had a special attachment to that Lockheed fighter.

In 1941, at the outbreak of the war, the entire Fluty family packed up and moved to Glendale. Mack, along with his brothers and Mom and Dad, all went to work for Lockheed. Even two of his uncles came down to work at the plant, so in total seven members of the family all worked at Lockheed there in Burbank. It was kind of a family joke that, of the entire Fluty clan of eight young family members, four of them were 4-F, while the other four flew P-38s! From June 1941 to September 1941, Mack worked on the production line bucking rivets on the planes that he would someday fly in combat. Feeling the need to take his place in the long line of patriots, he and his brother attempted to go to Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, but their Uncle Bill talked them out of that. Instead, on March 20, 1942, Mack enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Hammer Field in Fresno.

One of the interesting parts of this story is how I first came upon it. I was looking through a collection of my World War II Lockheed Star magazines and a story about the dedication of a tree at a family home in Glendale by Lockheed employees caught my attention. On my quest to drive around Glendale with the address to find that house and tree, an entirely different chapter opened up about the unique aspects of this story and this one family’s journey during World War II — not to mention that of Lockheed itself, honoring those who had collected a Lockheed paycheck before going off to war.

First Lt. Mack Fluty’s death, in action, is reported in his hometown newspaper.

After sharing the story of the tree dedication with my friends at the P-38 National Association, I was amazed when a phone call came to me from Donna Wilson of Veneto, Ore. Her uncle was Mack, the pilot of our story. She connected with me when a friend of hers saw the article, in which I mentioned the last name Fluty. She was just as amazed as I was that we were having a conversation about a part of her family’s history, that happened in what seemed to be another lifetime. Before long a manila envelope from Donna showed up at my house, with pictures, newspaper clippings and more history from a family that had thought this story was now just a part of distant memory and over. But that was not to be, as I felt the need to share it with today’s new generation. I’d like us all to have a better understanding of what that past generation was all about, and how they felt about each other.

Next issue, in part two of the story, we’ll look at how Lockheed paid tribute to not only Lieutenant Fluty and his family, but also many others who worked at Lockheed during World War II.

So stay tuned for more next time, and until then, Bob out …