This 102-year-old was a bomber pilot in WWII and an obstetrician. Here’s his story

KAYSVILLE, Utah — Dr. Lloyd R. Hicken understands the word “mission” as few people do.

A retired physician, slender of form — bent by age yet robust of spirit — he looks back on a century of life, much of it doing missions in areas of key need.

He served a mission in Brazil, flew 27 missions in the Pacific Theater as a B-24 bomber pilot in World War II, and returned to Brazil as a mission president. And, perhaps, filled more than 3,000 mini-missions as an obstetrician.

At 102 years, he is a resident here at Whisper Cove Assisted Living Center. When able, he attends his Val Verda 1st Ward in Bountiful, Utah.

His physician years are recalled in a recent Deseret News article “Pioneering doctor going strong at 101.”

His first mission began in 1939, when he and fellow missionary James E. Faust, later to serve in the First Presidency, voyaged 21 tedious days aboard a commercial, passenger-taking ship en route to Brazil. These pioneer missionaries — along with Elder William Grant Bangerter, Elder Faust’s first companion and later a General Authority Seventy — served in the city of Curitiba, state of Paraná.

After difficult proselytizing among Portuguese-speaking Brazilians for 24 months, Elder Hicken was transferred to be a branch president in Joinville, an enclave of Germans, one of the cities in Brazil first visited by missionaries more than a decade earlier. Elder Hicken arrived in Joinville on Dec. 8, 1941, a Monday.

Dr. Lloyd R. Hicken
Dr. Lloyd R. Hicken Credit: Courtesy Lloyd R. Hicken

That Sunday, Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States declared war on Germany and Japan.

Germans in the city immediately considered Elder Hicken a new American spy. Joinville’s native Portuguese-speaking police were certain he was a German spy.

He was caught “between the two of them.” Police ransacked his room, tossing his belongings on the floor. They studied his mail. One letter had a pun that was particularly troublesome because police grew certain it was code.

“By now you have them laying in the aisles, and I don’t mean the British Isles or the Dutch Isles,” wrote a missionary friend.

“It was hard to explain to them it was a pun.”

At the termination of their 30-month service, the missionaries, who came by ship, returned home by airplane. Other missionaries also left about this time because of the World War II.

Flying over oceans, mountains and forests captivated the imagination of the returning missionary. “I thought, ‘Wow. This is great,’ ” he said.

After that trip, Hicken wanted to be a pilot.

He had enough college to enter the service as an officer. But he didn’t like the idea of landing on an undulating deck, so the Navy was out. He didn’t like the feeling of flying upside down; being a fighter pilot was out. So he enlisted in the Air Force and began training to be a bomber pilot.

After a quarter of college at Oklahoma State University, he trained at Coleman, Texas, in 1943 under a civilian pilot who used profanity and occasionally threatened to whack a cadet over the head with the control stick.

“I was grateful when I got to fly solo and be rid of him. We were never treated that way again.”

Officers in the Air Force took over training, and “they treated us like gentlemen. It was a completely different ball game.”

When the cadets finally soloed, “they made us stand up on the big table in the dining room at mealtime, fold our arms like wings and chant, ‘Hooray, hooray! I soloed today.’ ”

The frisky cadets “flew around, did acrobatics” — a good experience.

Then training became serious, in larger airplanes where he learned to fly blind with instruments. “My feelings were just totally opposite (of the instruments). It was just so powerful I couldn’t believe it. But that line (on the instrument screen) was correct. Finally, through prayer and at the last minute or so, I learned to have total faith in that little line and the line above it.

“It was that simple. But you have to put your faith in it and forget your feelings and follow the line precisely. Well, I got through that. I was afraid I was going to flunk out right there,” he said.

He also learned to make dangerously dark field landings. “You didn’t know if you were there until you got lined up with the hooded lights,” he said.

After graduating from training, he was assigned to the B-24, a huge four-engine craft among 18,000 built during the war, which was the standard early heavy bomber in the Pacific theater.

Then a lieutenant, Hicken and a crew of nine others were trained to go overseas.

B-24 in the Pacific
B-24 in the Pacific

“They used these B-24s in the Pacific because you could carry your load farther and faster than the B-17.” (The improved B-29, called the Flying Superfortress, was introduced in 1944 and succeeded the B-24 by the end of the war.)

“One of the most dangerous experiences of the war was right there in that training period,” he recalled.

A hardened war veteran became his trainer. At a short field in Pendleton, Oregon, with hills all around it, the veteran pilot asked Hicken to take off.

“As we got up about 200 to 300 feet, he pulled both throttles on his side. Do you know what that does to a very wide plane?” Hicken said, explaining that the result is tipping the plane sideways.

“I was no heavier in weight then than now. I yelled, ‘Get on the yoke and help me!’ He wouldn’t budge. Oh! That was one of the most terrible moments of my life. We were swooping closer to the ground. I had to pull that yoke and wheel in one hand, and use the other hand turn the aileron down” to get level, he said.

“It was terribly dangerous, and had I panicked, it would have gone into the ground and killed us all.”

In December 1944, he and his crew were assigned to the Pacific Theater for battle. Ferried by cargo plane, they stopped in Hawaii, where a storm pinned them two weeks during Christmas season. “It was a pretty nice break for us. I went to the temple in Laie and visited the Church facilities.”

On the way to northern Australia and Papua New Guinea, the cargo plane stopped at Kiribati’s Tarawa, site of an intense battle a year earlier with heavy casualties: 6,400 Japanese and Allied lives were lost. Hicken left his crew members, reverently walked down the island and encountered one of 37 cemeteries on the palm-lined atoll, with 1,200 to 1,500 crosses.

“I had one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. There was a special spirit there, just marvelous, wonderful, beautiful. I felt so deeply I never forgot it.”

“They had a little monument made, and on it was a little verse of poetry,” he said. It read:

Man, with his burning soul has but an hour of breath
In which to build his ship of truth,
In which to sail, to sail upon the sea of death,
For death takes toll of courage, beauty, youth.

Well, we got down into the Pacific, and we were relatively late in the war. My unit was scheduled in northern Australia and Papua New Guinea.”

In Papua New Guinea, in sweltering jungle heat, they draped layers of parachutes over them for relief from the tropical sun.

When Merchant Marine ship supplies arrived, “we’d have a little beef, and chicken or turkey for a day or two, and then after that it was frozen pork and artificial potatoes for three months.”

Allied forces soon took Leyte, Philippines, and his crew advanced to the next front even before facilities were built. They were stationed on a ridge above a beautiful valley.

“Hicken, I want you to take your crew down in the valley and dig for water,” his commander ordered.

“We found a good one, … all the water they wanted,” Hicken said.

But the enlisted men were stationed in the valley. Officers on top of the ridge had little water. “We had our helmet as our wash basin to take spit baths. When we had a thunder shower, we’d strip off and get in the rain” while “the enlisted men had a great time.”

They watched as engineer corps laid massive metal airstrips.

Later, on that very air strip, the “most horrendous explosion” occurred when one of the bombers loaded with thousands of pounds of explosives went up. Its pilot lifted the airplane’s nose slightly too high, dragging its tail against the metal runway, sparking electricity. The whole plane was instantly gone.

Dr. Lloyd Hicken, pioneering medical doctor in Bountiful, is about to turn 102.
Dr. Lloyd Hicken, pioneering medical doctor in Bountiful, is about to turn 102. Credit: Lee Benson, Deseret News

Most of Hicken’s missions began early in the morning when they assembled and received their directions.

One such mission came near the end of July in 1945. The commander took them up too fast and burned too much fuel. After they dropped their load of bombs, pilots started shouting to the commander, “Get us out of here! We’ve used too much fuel.”

He gave free rein for them to get home as best as they could. “Had a close call to running out of gas,” he said. The gauge was “clear down at the bottom of it. Got home safely.

“I had a spiritual experience that I just don’t relate; it is too spiritual.”

In the Pacific, clouds could build up to 5,000 feet. Returning from one mission, flying in clouds for hours, they hit a big down column, and the heavy, four-engine plane dropped like a stone.

“The altimeter was going around like a windmill. I pushed the throttle forward to speed through it. A big plane like that — we came close; we could have gone right into the ocean.”

An opposite column of air raised them up like an elevator.

Transferred from the Philippines to Okinawa, the Air Force flew all day and early evening. They were directed to hit the main island of Japan, first Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They reported, but at the last minute their targets were canceled; they were to hit Shanghai instead. A week later, they learned that a B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. When Japan didn’t capitulate, Nagasaki was also hit by that same terrible force, effectively ending hostilities.

As the Allied forces prepared to occupy Japan, “they decided to allow those who wanted to go home to be able to do so. Hicken had been accepted into medical school and asked for release. “I was 27 years old, not married yet, and I thought I had reason to go home.”

To return to the states, he and his crew were given B-24s. They flew to Guam, then Midway, then Hawaii, then home. Taking off from Guam, the craft couldn’t get altitude.

“All four engines were on full blast. We stayed close to the island, so if we came down, we’d at least be in the water close to the shore. We finally climbed out of it.

“It turned out to be a profound magnetic situation that had also knocked out all our radios. We had no radio communication at all. We had a good navigator. He navigated by the sun to get us to Midway. Finally, we saw a little black speck way out ahead on the ocean. My navigator was that accurate.

“We landed. A jeep waited by the runway for us. I was taken directly to the commander. He lit into me with profanity, up one side, down the other for not communicating. I got a raking over I’d never had before. When I finally got a word in, he calmed down.”

Guam had contacted them about our coming, and Midway was getting ready to send out search efforts.

“We flew to Hawaii and then in over the Golden Gate to Sacramento. We said our goodbyes and had our first (stateside) meal there. On every tray was a quart of milk — the first milk we’d had for a long time.

“And that is how it ended.”

Upon returning to the states, Hicken enrolled in medical school at the University of Utah. After graduating, he interned, following that with a residency under a country doctor and then adding a specialty of obstetrician — a changed polarity from wartime, now bringing life into the world.

In fact, one might say he next filled more than 3,000 mini-missions, that of delivering babies during his 40 years of practice in Bountiful, Utah, and surrounding communities.

He served as high councilor, bishop’s counselor, bishop for six years, stake president’s counselor, mission president in Brazil, patriarch in two stakes, and temple sealer in the Salt Lake and Bountiful temples for 18 years.

“I am most grateful for these experiences of service,” he said.