This year, Memorial Day will be observed on Monday, May 25. However, because of the present health issues, there will be few, if any, gatherings of people for public ceremonies. Instead, I hope the day will be a quiet time, filled with personal reflections.
In Edmonds, because it has been 75 years since the ending of WWII, the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery Board had planned a memorial observance at the cemetery to pay tribute to the men and women who saw service during that war. Even though the event has been postponed until next year, we should remember these men and women. Of the almost 16 million Americans who served between 1939 and 1945, approximately 400,000 died during the war. Today, only an estimated 250,000 surviving veterans of the war are still living. Seventy-five years since the end of WWII, the number of those survivors grows smaller with each passing day.
As my own way of remembering our service men and women, each year I have written a special story for Memorial Day. The one this year is about a young Edmonds boy. He was one who didn’t survive WWII and remains one of the more than 10,000 still missing in action from that war. His name was Robert Lutton — his family, classmates and fellow servicemen called him Bob. Robert Lutton’s name is among those engraved on the face of the historic memorial monument located at the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery. Seventy-five years ago, when the war ended and our service members came home, Bob was one of the young men from Edmonds School District No. 15 who never had that chance. Seaman 2/c Charles Robert Lutton, Jr., USNR, still in his teen years, was lost at sea in 1942.
Bob Lutton was born in Mason County, West Virginia in 1924, the son of Charles Robert Lutton, Sr. and Lulu Ann Lutton. When Bob was a young child, the family moved to Washington state, to the Edmonds area, where he grew up in Meadowdale. He attended both Edmonds Grade School and Edmonds High School, and was in the class of 1944. He had two older sisters, Virginia and Rebecca.
In high school, Bob was pretty much a quiet boy. Average is probably how he would have been described. He did not stand out in either his studies or in sports. In fact, there was nothing about this average teenager to indicate that he had an unusually brave heart.
With this country involved in WWII, Bob left school before graduation, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
In the fall of 1942, holding the rank of Seaman 2/c, Bob Lutton was serving with the U.S. Navy Armed Guard, stationed on board a U.S. Merchant Marine cargo steamer, the SS Pennmar, at sea in the North Atlantic. In September of 1942, the ship was part of a large convoy traveling from New York to Halifax and Liverpool, carrying several tons of general cargo, including steel, food and trucks.
For two days, September 21 and 22 of 1942. the Pennmar was caught in a severe hurricane, and for those two days, Bob Lutton risked his own life performing dangerous volunteer services to help secure the ship for its survival during the raging storm. The first day, he willingly worked on a deck awash with water, all the while battling the force of the hurricane. To complicate a very dangerous situation, a truck which was part of the cargo, had shifted in the rough seas, and when the truck came to rest against the main steering gear, the ship’s steering system became damaged and useless.
On the second day of the hurricane, Bob Lutton again volunteered his services. This time he became part of a small crew sent to repair the ship’s rudder chain so they would be able to hand steer the Pennmar from an emergency steering station located at the stern of the ship. While the men worked, the ship was dead in the water, at the mercy of the sea. As huge waves crashed over her deck, the ship pitched and rolled in a deep trough, and Seaman 2/c Bob Lutton was washed overboard. On Sept. 22, 1942, the turbulent waters of the North Atlantic claimed the life of a brave young man—his body swallowed up by the sea, was unrecoverable.
Still hampered by the wind from the last of the hurricane, and the damage to her steering gear, the Pennmar remained in danger. The following day, Sept. 23, now separated from the convoy, the Pennmar began slowly making her way to Greenland’s Cape Farewell, only to be discovered and pinned down by several enemy submarines. On September 24, she was hit and sunk by a torpedo from a German submarine. As the ship was being abandoned, two crew members were killed. However, 38 merchant sailors and the 22-man Armed Guard were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, and transported to Iceland. All of Bob Lutton’s worldly possessions went down with the Pennmar.
Seaman 2/c Charles Robert Lutton’s extraordinary actions on the Pennmar were above and beyond his assigned duties. Thus, four years after his tragic death, he was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal for heroic achievement. The award ceremony took place on a Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 17, 1946, at the Meadowdale home of his mother Mrs. Lulu Ann Lutton. Lieutenant Commander John A. Davis, USNR, presented the award. The citation, signed by Acting Secretary of the Navy Artemus L. Gates, reads:
For heroic achievement while serving as a member of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard on board the SS Pennmar during a hurricane in the North Atlantic on Sept. 21 and 22, 1942. With the Pennmar caught in a trough and several of the gun crew trapped below deck, Lutton fearlessly proceeded aft and led his comrades amidships despite mountainous waves crashing over the deck. Subsequently ordered to remain on the bridge during the emergency, he voluntarily fought his way forward through the lashing winds to secure one of the ship’s vital guns and, later in the day, carried out another extremely perilous volunteer mission on the gun deck, securing the gear box with all necessary equipment for gun repairs which had broken from its moorings and was in imminent danger of being lost overboard. Again, proceeding aft, the following day as one of a volunteer crew to repair the urgently needed rudder chain, Lutton was swept overboard by a terrific sea breaking across the deck and all attempted rescue efforts were frustrated by the angry waters. An alert and ready seaman, Lutton performed his essential duties with skill and initiative at all times and his resolute courage, decisive action and gallant disregard of personal danger in the face of extreme peril were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Since 1942, Bob Lutton remains an MIA, lost at sea. However, as well as being remembered in his hometown on the memorial monument located at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery, he is also memorialized on the Wall of the Missing at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in Coton, Cambridge, England.
— By Betty Lou Gaeng
Betty Gaeng is a former long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. Although now living in Anchorage, she occasionally writes about the history and the people of both early-day Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. She is also an honorary member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board.