- By Ken Herman American-Statesman Staff
For several years, dating back to 2012, this newspaper has offered periodic updates on Austinite Jim Lux’s tireless effort to get a monument built in Iceland. It’s an effort that has made him, best as I can tell, the only local resident involved in trying to get a monument built in Iceland.
I’m happy to now report that Lux now is the only local resident, also best as I can tell, who actually succeeded in getting a monument built in Iceland. (If you know of others, give me a call.)
The effort began in 2010 when Lux’s longtime Lost Creek Country Club golfing buddy Robert T. “Jake” Jacobson died at age 93. Jacobson was a World War II bombardier. As Jacobson’s health began to fail, he asked Lux to do some research about his bomber group. It included a plane known as Hot Stuff, which became the first WW II bomber in the 8th Air Force fly 25 successful missions in World War II, a distinction that had been famously and erroneously given to the Memphis Belle.
Hot Stuff had flown 31 missions and was scheduled to head back home in 1943 to help sell war bonds. Plans changed en route when Gen. Frank M. Andrews boarded in England for the hop home. Jacobson was among the crew members bumped to make room for Andrews and others.
Hot Stuff crashed in severe weather at Mt. Fagradalsfjall, near Grindavik, Iceland, on May 3, 1943, killing Andrews and 13 others on board. There was one survivor. The Memphis Belle eventually returned home, did the war bond tour and became famous.
Among the posthumous honors afforded Andrews was the 1945 renaming of Camp Springs Army Air Field as what is now Joint Base Andrews outside Washington D.C. The base long has been home of the presidential air fleet. According to Gen. Ira Eaker, then-commander of the 8th Air Force, Andrews was to be notified on the day he died that he’d been selected to command the Allies Forces for the invasion of Europe, a post subsequently given to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 2012, Lux, who served in the Air Force from 1957 through 1962 and is a retired IBM marketing rep, went to Iceland and set out to find the mountain site where Hot Stuff went down many years ago.
Working with Icelandic brothers Thorsteinn and Ólafur Marteinsson, Lux located pieces of the wreckage. Lux returned home, inspired to raise money for a monument. Four golf tournaments and many other fundraising efforts later — including displaying Hot Stuff wreckage brought from the Iceland mountain — Lux had eclipsed the $100,000 goal he set for the project.
He’s put together a great video, including archival footage from the crash scene, that you can find on YouTube by searching for “A Story of Triumph and Tragedy.” There’s also a book, “Before the Belle,” by Cassius Mullen and Betty Byron. Sales of the book helped fund the monument.
On May 3, the 75th anniversary of the crash, Lux and others gathered in Grindavik to dedicate the black granite monument designed by Lux and with the stainless steel model of the Hot Stuff created by Colorado artist Terry Hinde.
“U.S., Iceland remember WWII heroes with monument dedication,” said a recent headline on the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa website.
“Their sacrifice and commitment to a cause far greater than themselves represents the proud heritage and tradition of honor that is the core identity of today’s U.S. Air Force,” Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, 3rd Air Force commander, said at the ceremony.
Lux’s excitement about the project and the ceremony in which it was dedicated is palpable weeks after the event.
“I’m going to tell you, I haven’t quite had a feeling like that in my life,” he said. “When that B-52 made that fly-by, I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”
He’s endlessly appreciative to all who helped make it possible, including his new friends in Iceland who shared his enthusiasm in the project. “The Icelanders wanted to honor Americans on their soil, and they did,” he said. “Those people bent over backwards to help us.”
Back in 2014, Lux targeted the 75th anniversary of the crash as his date for the dedication. Back then he said, “I think about that and I said, ‘Holy mackerel, I’ll be 79.’ I might not make it.’”
This past week, he laughed at that comment. “I lucked out is all I can say.”
And he’s not done. The monument is on a roadside about 3 miles from the largely inaccessible mountainside where Hot Stuff went down.
“One of the things I’m thinking about doing is putting up a polished stainless steel reflector on the mountain so when you look up from the monument you could actually see the location,” he said.