Wartime friendship leads to new connection, decades later

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Two strangers in different parts of the country now share a close bond, thanks to a friendship that was forged decades ago in the heat of battle.

Linda Hutchison and her father, Sgt. Charles K. Luke. Special photo

Linda Hutchison of Hampton describes her late father, Army Sgt. Charles K. Luke, as someone with whom she shared a special connection.

“My father and I had been very close all of my life,” says Hutchison, wife of Hampton Mayor Steve Hutchison. “I could not imagine life without him. We talked about everything, but especially about our faith in God and our relationship to Him. I miss those talks so very much. He was a mentor to my entire family.”

Linda Hutchison and her father, Sgt. Charles K. Luke. Special photo

One topic of conversation which regularly came up between Hutchison and her dad, she says, centered around his military service, under General George S. Patton on the front lines in Germany.

“Daddy often spoke of the very cold rainy winters and how his feet had been frostbitten while in the war,” says Hutchison. “He said it was a miracle that he did not lose his feet to amputation.”

Hutchison said although her dad kept up with a lot of people from his past through the years, he didn’t do the same with his Army buddies.

Hutchison lost her father to cancer in October of last year, at the age of 89. Though she continues to grieve his loss, Hutchison has kept his memory alive in recent months, through an online encounter with the granddaughter of one of Sgt. Luke’s Army buddies.

Shortly before Hutchison’s dad passed away, Chris Edens of The Woodlands, Texas, was dealing with the loss of grandfather, Sgt. J.F. “Harold” Fussell. He, too, served in the Army under Patton, in the 94th Infantry Division.

“I started asking him about the war several years ago,” says Edens. “He didn’t want to talk about it. As the years passed, he would just tell me some little story.”

Chris Edens with her grandfather, Sgt. J.F. Fussell. Special photo

One of those stories, says Edens, was about a soldier with red hair and freckles, who Fussell simply referred to as Luke. According to Edens, Fussell served with Luke from their days together in boot camp, through the entire war, but they never saw each other again after they left the service.

In fact, Edens says until last year, she didn’t know much about her grandfather’s military service, except that Fussell received a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart, as well as a Good Conduct Medal.

“I told him I was pretty sure he stole that off somebody,” says Edens with a laugh. “He was a rascal.”

Edens says she continued to ask her grandfather about his Army stories, until he finally agreed to preserve them on a tape recorder. Luke’s name, says Edens, was mentioned twice on the recording. She said her family then sent the tapes off to be converted to CDs.

While they were waiting, Fussell died of a heart attack on June 1, 2014, at the age of 88. After looking into her grandfather’s military history further, Edens found a scrapbook her grandmother had assembled of Fussell’s time in the service, which included a photo of Sgt. Luke. Edens later received the long-awaited CD, in January of this year.

“I sat there for probably two weeks and just looked at it because I wasn’t ready,” she says.

When she finally was ready to listen to her grandfather’s voice again, Edens began listening to the CD. About four minutes into the recording, he says Luke’s full name. Edens says she looked online for information about Luke, and discovered he had passed away.

However, when she found his obituary, Edens learned Hutchison’s name and subsequently tracked her down via Facebook in February. Since then, Edens and Hutchison have been piecing together parts of a story that began with sergeants Luke and Fussell.

“They were together the entire war,” says Edens. “I told her, ‘Any story he’s telling, it’s your dad’s story too, because they were together the entire time.’”

Hutchison admits that connecting with Edens in February was “bittersweet,” since Luke had passed away only four months earlier. Still, Hutchison says her budding friendship with Edens is a reminder of her father’s love.

“It was, in a sense, a valentine from my father,” says Hutchison. “To have Chris contact us and tell us that someone we did not even know thought so very much of him, only reiterated to us what a wonderful man he has always been, even before any of us knew him.”

Hutchison wishes the two Army buddies had been able to reconnect before their deaths, but is grateful to have made a connection with Edens.

“I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if my father had known where Mr. Fussell was, he would have contacted him,” says Hutchison. “It has been a bittersweet connection and only proves to me how small our world really is and how many wonderful people there are surrounding us all the time.”