WWII Air Corps Veteran Gets Silver Star He Never Knew About

After World War II, New Mexico native Domitilio Lucero, like so many others, came to Southern California looking for work.

He got a job at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard on Terminal Island and discovered San Pedro. He married his high school sweetheart, and they put down roots and raised four sons, two of whom graduated from Fermin Lasuen High and two from San Pedro High.

Lucero didn’t talk much about the war, which was typical for most veterans. He had been a sergeant in the Army Air Corps, an engineer/gunner on a B-26 Marauder medium bomber based in England, and had seen plenty of action before being gravely wounded in a mission over Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. It took years of research from his sons to get the whole story, and it turned out to be a whole lot more than even Lucero himself knew. Back in the states, recovering from his wounds, he was unaware he had been awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award exclusively for combat valor.

Nearly 70 years later, Lucero, now 89 and living in Barstow, will receive his Silver Star in a special ceremony Nov. 5.

The Dec. 23, 1944, raid on the German rail bridgehead at Arhweiler was supposed to be a “milk run” for the 391st Bombardment Group, part of the Ninth Air Force. But the fighter support for the 32 planes in the raid never materialized, and they were sitting ducks when set upon by 60 German fighters. Only 16 bombers made it back to base, and nearly every one of those was damaged, including Lucero’s. His citation for “gallantry in action” reads:

Although thrown from his position, Sgt. Lucero crawled back to his post and although his armament was inoperative, he gallantly continued to inform his pilot of enemy aircraft positions. Sgt. Lucero’s heroic determination and courage under heavy enemy antiaircraft fire despite his painful injury reflect the highest credit upon himself and his organization.

Gerald Lucero, the youngest brother and 1970 SPHS grad, told The Air Force Times what his dad remembers of that day.

“He said they were coming in at you like you wouldn’t believe – five, 10, 15 of them, just coming in at you like you wouldn’t believe. He said he was just shooting everywhere he possibly could, and then they disappeared.” Then came the flak from below.

“He said you could see these black smoke bombs coming from the bottom, and then they were just tearing at the aircraft. He said he saw several aircraft going down, and that’s all he remembered.”

Struck by cannon fire from an enemy fighter, Lucero, then 21, spent 18 months in hospitals, where part of his rib was used to rebuild his nose.

Before he left his supply job at the naval shipyard in 1972 to go to work at the Marine Corps Logistics Base outside Barstow, he saw all four sons follow his footsteps into the service. The oldest, Elroy, a ’65 graduate of Fermin Lasuen, joined the Army and served in Germany. Today, he’s an electrical engineer in San Jose. Stevan enlisted after a cousin was killed in Vietnam. The ’67 Lasuen graduate became a member of the Army Airborne’s Special Forces and fought in Vietnam from 1969-70. The San Pedro resident is a recently retired schoolteacher after a long career with Los Angeles Unified. Vincent joined the Army and served stateside. He’s a security guard in Victorville. Gerald broke with family tradition by joining the Navy. Today he’s a time-share manager in Hawaii. Gerald, point man in the effort to get his dad’s Silver Star, told The Air Force Times of the impetus behind the effort:

“We just want to make sure that my children – his grandchildren – know, and their children know, about his involvement in the war because we’ve all felt… that my dad is a hero and what he had to endure… and I now… hear about this, and it’s even more so.”

Veteran Thanks a Veteran
I got this letter in response to my Memorial Day column on Bob DeSpain, the Rancho Palos Verdes veteran who survived the sinking of the USS Hoel in WWII. It speaks for itself:

“I served aboard the USS Hoel (DDG-13) from Jan. `69-Nov. `72, a guided-missile destroyer. (On) my first WESTPAC cruise `69-70, the ship was chosen to represent the U.S.A. in New Zealand’s bicentennial celebration.

“Our course took us to Pago Pago, then to Samar and over the site of the sunken USS Hoel (DD-533). All aboard paid their respects with a ceremony and wreath casting in memory of the crew lost in the battle.

“The information from official records was read to the crew of the battle and heroism of those men lost and those that survived.

“I salute Bob DeSpain for his labor, tenacity and survival. The battle, being outgunned, was lost yet successful in slowing down the enemy.”

It was signed by William G. “Bill” Forst, a Torrance resident. To Bill, Bob, all of the Luceros and every other veteran, an early happy Veterans Day. spt

Check My Custom Machines

Ron Binkley photographed with his latest project, a canary-yellow 1938 Cadillac La- Salle, 2-door Opera Coupe. (photo by Valerie Electra Smith-Griffin)

The layers in-between the lip-smacking cake that’s our town are its people, such as Pedro-blooded Ron Binkley, a non-stop cars and electronics tinker who once played a mean electric keyboard and danced the night away with an alluring woman known only as Midnight at the now vanished Canetti’s Restaurant.

It’s a typical gray mist-laden morning, and Binkley replaces the baritone, two-tone foghorn once known as “Moaning Maggie” with the commanding startup of his most reliable 1971 Ford Torino Station Wagon, its wheels whirling off to San Pedro’s Sacred Grounds, his personal haunt for his ritualistic cup of high octane. It’s a happening destination where he celebrates the day with relished camaraderie consisting of long-time friends and his kids who enjoy sharing the day with Pappy. After toasting the sunrise with Columbian and cream, he returns to his home that’s chockfull of cars, a mish-mash of machinery and a plethora of photographic memories spread across a thick wooden table that is laden not with salt and pepper shakers, placemats and artificial fruit, but hundreds of faded Kodacolor, sepia-tone and grainy black and whites of cars, machinery, wars past and family, collaged and creating a watercolor wash that are the festive colors of Binkley, whose lead foot is glued on the accelerator pedal of life; his fervor for all things cars, and the restoration of engines and drive trains ever-smoldering.

The Gilbert Electric Train Set, Slinky, or that extra special toy packaged with a barrage of sexual curiosity questions, the Doctor and Nurses Kit, magnetized many kids of the 1940s but not necessarily so for our mechanical-minded Binkley. Reflecting on his mother’s memory, Binkley says, “In 1940, at the age of three, I found car parts in an alley and, using a board, rolled them up into my crib.” For Binkley, his fascination with vehicles and machinery visibly evolved from a curious childhood habit into a lifelong emotional, and some might add, spiritual attachment.

In his early teens, Binkley worked as an usher at the Warner Grand Theatre where he played piano for the 1950 movie premier, South Sea Sinner, which also starred Liberace. Other jobs included Howard Cross Auto Repair and 7th Street Garage. In 1959, his strong interests in electronics and aerospace were further stimulated at Ryan Aeronautical Company, best known for building Charles Lindberg’s “Spirit of St. Louis” for his illustrious 1927 transatlantic flight. Always one that harbored a now realized yearning to witness man’s flight to the moon and beyond, he worked on the Doppler Radar for the Lunar Lander until he was drafted into the army, then returned to Ryan and onto Vickers Aerospace as an instrumentation technician on the Gemini Space Capsule. He retired in 1998 as foreman of the Radar and Antenna Restoration Division in the Electronics Weapons Facility at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.

Binkley’s cars read like classic commercials from Cal Worthington and his fantasy dog Spot, but unlike Worthington, he won’t stand on his head, and don’t expect to see a Smart Car, which to Binkley, is an abomination of the greatest kind. As we peruse his aisles we see his 1968 Buick Special complete with a Buick 350 V-8. Interested in a 1931 Model A, or perhaps a Ford 1955 F100 Truck? The head-turning 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood Convertible that was advertised last week flew off the lot, but that snazzy 1938 Cadillac 75 series Coupe that was one of forty-two cars ever built, and survived the London Blitz, is waiting for you to drive it away, as is the 1964 1/2 Mustang and the 1940 Cadillac ’62 series with a L-Head V-8.

“My cars must have noise, that’s why I install duel exhaust and headers on all of them. It’s like beautiful music to my ears,” says Binkley.

Perhaps a 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster is more to your liking, or a head-turning 1969 purple Cadillac El Dorado with a no-nonsense 472 engine. Yearning to nourish your inner diva? Try an eye-popping 1961 Chevrolet Impala Convertible, it’s the one Binkley used to chauffeur former Councilwoman Janice Hahn in the San Pedro Christmas parades, and it comes complete with a 348 V-8 engine and 4-barrel carburetor. Still perplexed as to what honks your horn? Try a 1938 Cadillac La Salle Opera Coupe, complete with a 1942 military tank engine, or its earlier LaSalle cousin from 1937. If you crave a 1936 Ford 4-door sedan with the 1949 Olds V-8 and 1937 LaSalle transmission, sorry pal, that one flew off the lot as fast as its scorching wheels could go.

In addition to the artful cars just mentioned, Binkley is also the proud owner of two, 700 pounds each, solid stainless steel, early model nuclear submarine periscope foundations, complete with floor plates that display 360 degree markings. Perhaps they’ll eventually come in handy as lawn statues. Seriously, pink flamingos are so yesterday.

Binkley reflects on his prize car. “Without hesitation, one of my favorites was the one I purchased from Cecil Thomas and Sons on Pacific Avenue in San Pedro. A 1936 Ford 4-door sedan for $49.” Being the modification surgeon that he is, he rebuilt the engine with an Oldsmobile overhead valve V-8, a rear-end from a 1941 Cadillac LaSalle transmission, duel 4-barrel carburetors and a drive shaft from a 1932 Cadillac V-12. The track of Lions Drag Strip (1955-1972) in the Wilmington district, adjacent to Long Beach, whose slogan was “Drive the Highways, Race at Lions”, paved the way for the revamped car. “My lifelong friends, Billy Stecker, the late Jack Stecker, Frank Iacono and Tom Taros are 1940s and 1950s drag racing world icons and without Taros, all the hot rodders wouldn’t have a place to go.”

Lions Drag Strip is now a ghostly image in Binkley’s rearview mirror and his Canetti’s nights are kept alive in lively remembrances at Sacred Grounds with friends who frequently slip in a friendly barb of, “Can’t you find another subject besides cars to talk about?” Ignoring the question, he downs his final sip of Columbian and cream, eager to make a mad dash home and determined to breathe new life into his latest project, a canary-yellow 1938 Cadillac LaSalle, 2-door Opera Coupe. Care for a ride anyone? Take Binkley’s word for it, once you hear the engine roar and caress that velvety burgundy mohair interior, you haven’t lived! spt