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Jack Tueller, World War II pilot and trumpeter, dies in Utah at age 95

Published August 19, 2016 4:02 pm

Memories • Love for music helped the decorated fighter pilot cope with horrors of the war.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Jack L. Tueller, the trumpeter pilot who flew fighter planes in World War II, died Monday.

He was 95.

His daughter, Roseanne Nielsen, said Thursday that her father fell about three weeks earlier as he was getting ready to get into the shower. He hit his head on a tile floor and never recovered, Nielsen said.



Tueller's military combat record was impressive, flying more than 100 missions in a P-47 Thunderbolt, its propeller whirling him across the English Channel to attack German targets in occupied France. But he flew with an unusual piece of equipment that gained him recognition in his golden years.

Tueller carried his trumpet in a canvas bag strapped to his parachute.

"I figured if I ever got shot down, it would go with me, and if I survived and got put into a prisoner-of-war camp, I could get an extra bar of soap from the guard [by playing the instrument]," Tueller said in 2009 on CNN, one of many news outlets across the country who broadcast or published features about Tueller in his last decade of life.

Not only was Tueller never shot down, but he also asserted that a bullet never struck his plane. So he played every night for his comrades, tooting "Danny Boy" and "Lili Marlene," among other tunes.

Tueller retired from the Air Force — the successor to the Army Air Corps — in 1966 as a colonel, but he wore his Air Force dress uniform on CNN, in the 2014 Days of '47 Parade in Salt Lake City and in speeches to veterans groups and schoolchildren across Utah long after his retirement. He was known as "Col. Jack" around Bountiful, where he settled with his wife and family after his retirement.

Jack LeRoy Tueller was born Jan. 28, 1921, in Evanston, Wyo., to Percival T. and Augusta Tueller. At age 6, his father took him to a dirt strip in Rock Springs, where Tueller saw a twin engine mail plane operated by the Army Air Corps land in the snow and rain.

The pilot approached Tueller. "He patted me on the head, and he said, 'Son, you'll fly one of these one of these days,' " Tueller told KUED in 2005. "And I knew what I wanted to do."

Not long after that, Tueller's mother died. His father, described by Tueller as a bartender and an alcoholic, left the day after the funeral. An aunt in Evanston reared Tueller and his two brothers. (Two other brothers, who were twins, died as infants, Nielsen said Thursday.)

When Tueller was 13, the aunt taught him to play the trumpet. In 1939, Tueller said, he was playing with a band at Yellowstone National Park when Louis Armstrong walked up to him, complimented him and advised him to always play the melody.

After high school, Tueller went to Brigham Young University to study music. When he was a sophomore, he met Marjorie Rogers, of Morgan. She played the trumpet, too, and was impressed with a solo Tueller performed at a freshman assembly.

But Tueller ran out of money to continue his education, so in January 1941, he went to Fort Douglas, hoping to become an Army officer and a pilot. He was too young to enter officer training, so he enlisted.

He was a radio operator on a B-25 until he turned 21 and could go to officer and pilot training. He graduated from flight school at Luke Field in Mesa, Ariz., on March 16, 1942. Rogers pinned his wings on him. The next day, the couple married at the Mormon temple in Mesa.

Tueller was a captain in November 1943, when he piloted a P-47 on his first mission. He would fly about 100 more missions in that war, most of them attacking targets on the ground. Tueller's gun camera footage showed he shot down six enemy aircraft, but his son Stephen Tueller on Thursday said his father wasn't considered an ace, which requires five felled aircrafts, because some of his kills didn't have eyewitnesses to provide further corroboration.

One mission haunted the pilot.

About a week after D-Day, his squadron was sent to attack a German Panzer tank division. The fighters got close and could see Frenchwomen and children strapped to the tanks as human shields. The attack was aborted. The squadron returned to base, but the commander sent them back to strike the German tanks anyway, saying the civilians were expendable.

At a ceremony in 2014 at Fort Douglas to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, Tueller said he went to sleep every night with images of what his .50-caliber machine guns did to the civilians. He credited his evening trumpet playing with providing the stress relief other pilots found in a bottle.

After World War II, Tueller stayed as the Air Corps became the Air Force. Tueller moved into logistics. In 1964, he was made commander the 2705th Air Munitions Wing at Hill Air Force Base, the wing that supplied ordnance and ammunition to airmen and airplanes. Tueller's only combat deployment was during World War II, but Nielsen said her father maintained his flight status and flew numerous jets.

Tueller was a devout, teetotaling Mormon. During the war, he gave his share of liquor to the mechanic who maintained his P-47. The mechanic kept the plane in pristine order, Nielsen said, relaying her father's description.

Tueller often articulated what he encountered in the military through the lens of Mormonism. He described Nazi Germany as having taken away its citizens' "free agency," the LDS concept of God having given his children the privilege to make choices in their lives.

As a lieutenant colonel in 1952, Tueller gave a lecture on how heeding the Word of Wisdom — the faith's health code that encourages Latter-day Saints to abstain from coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol — helped pilots better tolerate G-forces. Tueller told KUED his biggest fight of World War II was with an artist who wanted to paint wings of a destroying angel on one side of his airplane. Mormons don't believe angels have wings.

"He was very much in tune with his religion," Nielsen said.

Tueller's wife died in 2011. His survivors include Nielsen, a former first runner-up in the Miss America pageant whose first name Tueller wrote on the side of his P-47; three other daughters, Carolyn Markwith, Sharman Tueller and Janine Mickelson; and two sons Shayne Tueller and Stephen Tueller; 26 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.

A visitation will be held 6 to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Canyon Park LDS Ward, 1190 E. Bountiful Hills Drive, Bountiful. Services will be at noon Saturday at the church. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints General Missionary Fund.

Tueller received about 20 medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, but he told KUED that he didn't put significance in them. He said too many medals were decided on the basis of politics and the report the commanding officer wrote. He was more impressed with Boy Scouts who earned the Eagle Scout badge.

"That will get you through the pearly gates," Tueller said of becoming an Eagle Scout, "but I'm not sure [medals] will get me through the pearly gates."

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle

 

 

 

 

 

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