Fr. Eugene Lutz, CSV, was a championship boxer, a beloved high school teacher and an inspiring retreat leader over the course of his 47 years as a Viatorian. But it was his military experience and years of suffering as a prisoner of war that he carried with him and ultimately propelled him into religious life.
Marine Pvt. Lutz was just 19 years old when he enlisted in the Marines at the outbreak of World War II, in 1940. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Wake Island simultaneously, they incurred great casualties, but 400 Marines fought for 15 days to defend Wake Island, against repeated attacks by Japanese aircraft, before surrendering. Pvt. Lutz was among them and he was taken as a prisoner of war.
He would spend the duration of the war as a POW in Japan, where he was harshly treated and used as “slave labor,” one of his fellow Marines said, and within three years of being released, he entered the Viatorian Community.
“It was obvious to everyone even then that Gene had a deep spiritual faith,” said LeRoy Schneider in a eulogy he delivered at Fr. Lutz’s funeral, June 15, 1996.
In an article that appeared in the July, 2017 edition of the National Interest magazine, published by the Center for National Interest, Schneider was quoted in a story, entitled: The Battle for Wake Island: American Military’s World War II ‘Alamo.’
In it, Schneider cited faith as the force that carried these Wake defenders through their imprisonment. He described a small group of them, led by their commanding officer, Major James Deveroux, who gathered every Sunday to pray the rosary. Fr. Lutz was among them, and more than 40 years later he would preside over his commander’s funeral.