'Service before self' Ken Lundeby serves in 3 conflicts, son and grandson follow his legacy
The family of Ken Lundeby of Dickinson has multiple reasons to observe Veterans Day. It’s an opportunity to recognize Ken for serving as a military aviator in three different services through three major conflicts.
His son, John, also made the military a career, and Ken’s grandson, Josh Lundeby, was recently promoted to major with the U.S. Air Force.
“Grandpa embodies ‘service before self’ and sets a high standard for the rest of us to follow,” Josh said. “I’m very proud of my grandfather and I hope to continue to make him proud as well.”
Ken appreciated the opportunity to serve his country, but it was about more than that.
“Traveling was the great thing, and while the pay was not great, you could live on it and as you got promoted it went up,” Ken said from his room at Evergreen.
At age 95, Ken recently moved to Evergreen, while his wife, Phyllis, can still remain at home. The family has three children, Karen Sharpe of Dickinson, Denise Thoreson of Seward, Neb., and John in O’Fallon, Ill.
Ken retired in 1969 from the Army as a lieutenant colonel with 27 years of service. However, his military career started with the Navy during World War II.
Naval flight training
Living in Osnabrock at the time, Ken was 22 years old when he volunteered for Naval flight training.
“I didn’t want to be the guy with a rifle on my shoulder,” he said. “My older brother was at Camp Claiborne down in Louisiana at the time with the mosquitoes and bugs. That was not for me, so I headed off to Minnesota to the Naval Recruiting Station.”
He passed the physicals and aptitude tests and was accepted to become a naval aviator, flying the Douglas C54 transport.
“We flew supplies to the different islands of the Pacific,” he said. “I was lucky. I wasn’t down on the land in places like Guadalcanal. I was able to take off again and get the hell out of there. I felt lucky to be flying.”
After the war ended, Ken returned home, but was called back during the Korean War. This time, he flew search-and-rescue seaplanes and helicopters for the U.S. Coast Guard.
“I was lucky during the Korean War, because I wasn’t close to hostile Koreans,” he said. “I did search and rescue for more than two years.”
He completed his tour of duty by working as a helicopter instructor at Fort Rucker, Ala.
Returning to Mayville, he went to work as an assistant mortician at a funeral home.
“That didn’t last long, and I ended up going back into the Army during the Vietnam War,” he said.
Two tours to Vietnam
He served as a pilot for tours in 1965 and again in 1968.
“They were short of pilots to rotate back and forth,” he said.
During the first tour, he flew resupply airplanes.
During the second tour, he flew counter-insurgency planes at higher altitudes, listening to the Vietnamese up and down the Ho Chi Min Trail, he said.
During a mission on Easter morning, Ken’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire.
“We had to fly a couple of hours, trying to stay in the air until we got back to home base,” he said. “The left wing was flapping in the wind. It was hard to keep the wing up and fly it home, but we managed to do it.”
After discharge, a doctor offered Ken the job as administrator of a medical clinic in Mayville.
“What the hell did I know about a clinic?” he said. “He said I’d do alright. I spent 11 years as an administrator there.”
Ken continued to fly for a while in Mayville when he and several of friends invested in an airplane.
“It was too expensive buying gas and we didn’t fly enough to make it worthwhile,” he said.
Ken grew tired of shoveling snow, so he and his wife purchased a home in Florida. They spent six months in Tampa, then returned to Mayville — a lifestyle they enjoyed for 25 years.
Ken continues to serve his country as a member of the American Legion and as a past commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“My friends and I used to play golf and we used to go fishing at Lake of the Woods,” he said. “Now, most are out in the cemetery.”
Ken’s link to the military continues with the service of his son and grandson.
As a civilian employee, John is deputy chief, Air Transportation Division, Headquarters Air Mobility Command at Scotts Air Force Base in Illinois. He retired from the Air Force in 2001 as a lieutenant colonel.
John credits his dad for inspiring him to pursue a military career in the Navy. It was all he knew as a child, referencing how the family lived in multiple states throughout his childhood.
“Why not give the military a try,” he remembers thinking. “It was the perfect opportunity to get away from home and to be on your own. Service to country is a big part of it. The travel is great.”
Completing his four-year commitment to the Navy, he returned to college and was about to graduate.
“Two weeks before I graduated, I married my wife and was accepted into the Air Force officers training program.”
He served in the military 26 years before working as a civil employee for the Air Force.
John’s son, Josh, currently serves as a C-17 pilot at Altus Air Force Base. He was recently commissioned as a major. He was stationed at Charleston Air Force Base for six years and did airlift missions all over the world, including a lot of time over Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, he’s an instructor in Altus, Okla.
“My father and grandfather both inspired me to serve in the U.S. Air Force,” he said. “As a three-war vet, my grandfather had a lot of great flying stories that I always loved hearing and still do. I always looked up to my dad and enjoyed the adventure of being a military “brat.”
Ken’s wife, Phyllis, was recognized for her service to country, but in a different way.
While their dad was away, John said his mother basically ran the household.
“He’d be off to Vietnam, and suddenly she was responsible for the checkbook or when something broke.”
As Karen said, “She held down the fort.”
Karen describes her dad as a very private person — one who didn’t boast about his military service.
“We’d wait for a letter once a week,” she said. “If you didn’t get the letter, you worry.”
Veterans Day is a special holiday for the family.
“We recognize our veterans not just on the holidays, but all the time,” she said.