Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

Here on the cusp of Memorial Day, let us pause to remember two old warriors who no longer walk among us. God rest both of their souls.

This pair may have passed from our midst, but their story has reached legendary status at certain family gatherings and military reunions.

I’m talking about Bill Beckler’s memories of “Lucifer,” perhaps the only rooster to ever fly on three bombing missions during World War II.

I learned about Lucifer from my newspaper friend Lisa Gentry, who is Bill Beckler’s daughter. Apparently her dad was a storyteller supreme. Months ago, Lisa gave me a copy of one of her father’s typed stories from the war. It’s a scream. So fasten your seatbelt and let’s take off down the runway …

Beckler served as a fighter pilot during WWII, flying 108 combat missions over France and Italy. He got home safely and enjoyed a long career as a clerk in the Knoxville office of the FBI. He died May, 24, 2010, age 89.

Lucifer, alas, never made it out of the war zone alive.

As Beckler described him, Lucifer “was a rogue Italian who managed to escape death by the Germans who had executed most of his relatives. He was weak, lean and hungry. He was slight of build with thin facial features and small beady eyes that followed your every movement. It was his destiny to live up to his namesake.”

Beckler found Lucifer, then a tiny yellow chick, in a deserted villa near his air base in Italy. He brought the bird back to the tent he shared with other Army Air Corps pilots.

“We figured if we raised this chicken, we could soon expect an egg every day,” he wrote.

The lads may have been superb airmen, but they weren’t poultry experts. This became apparent the day Lucifer began to crow.

And crow. And crow. And crow. And crow.

Wrote Beckler: “It became an obsession with Lucifer and a nightmare for the pilots who resented being awakened at dawn on days they didn’t have to fly.”

On three of Beckler’s own missions, Lucifer stayed by his master’s side—although when Beckler pulled out of one bomb run, he noticed the G-forces had mashed his bird “flat as a pancake.”

On the ground, however, loud-mouthed Lucifer continued making enemies. His welcome was worn out. He simply had to go. Which he did with a flourish.

Not to mention flour, seasoning and hot grease.

“I told the mess sergeant to prepare him Southern fried,” Beckler wrote. “At the noon meal that day, my tent mates and I bade Lucifer a fond and delicious good bye.”

Sam Venable is an author, entertainer and columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at .