Vernon "Lou" Hlubek

Obituary: Vernon 'Lou' Hlubek hunted WWII submarines from a blimp

Published: Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4B
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013 - 6:55 am

Vernon "Lou" Hlubek, a Navy veteran who hunted enemy submarines from blimps and served on a military operation in Antarctica, died Sunday of complications from a recent fall, his family said. He was 89.

Mr. Hlubek (pronounced lu-bek) was a Midwestern farm boy who joined the Navy in 1942 and traveled around the world. He accrued more than 15,000 hours of flight time as a radio operator aboard aircraft ranging from giant dirigibles to seaboats to sleek Super Constellation planes.

He served on K-ship blimps that supported convoys in the Atlantic Ocean near Libya, Morocco, Guyana and Cuba.

Patrolling at an altitude of 500 feet, he used radar to scan below the water surface for German submarines.

"He had at least 10,000 hours on K-ships," said his nephew, Ben McGrew. "He said, 'That was no great shakes. They moved so slow.' "

In 1946, Mr. Hlubek was stationed on the USS Pine Island, a seaplane tender assigned to Operation Highjump, a mission led by explorer Richard E. Byrd to map Antarctica. He flew with rescuers who searched the icy landscape for 13 days to find survivors of a PBM Mariner plane that crashed in a blizzard, killing three crewmen.

Born in 1924 in Minnesota, Vernon Robert Hlubek was the youngest of five children raised on a farm. He visited family and friends and attended high school reunions in Minnesota for many years.

He established himself in the Sacramento area after retiring from the Navy as a chief petty officer in 1962. He took a civil service job at McClellan Air Force Base and also worked as a driver for Hertz returning rental cars.

A genial man who made friends easily, he was active in the Knights of Columbus, St. Mel's Catholic Church and the Navy Fleet Reserve Association. He was married for 48 years and enjoyed many cruises with his wife, Frances, who died in 2008.

He also was predeceased by a son, Steven, who was one of four children from an earlier marriage. Another son, David Hlubek, is the founder and lead guitarist for the Southern rock band Molly Hatchet.

Mr. Hlubek loved big band music. Visitors often found him relaxing outside on his deck to the sounds of Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller on the stereo in his Fair Oaks home.

He also followed his son's music career with pride. In 1980, he took his wife and relatives to a Molly Hatchet concert at Memorial Auditorium.

"It was one of the most surreal experiences ever," recalled his niece Laurette Buljan. "We got backstage passes, and Bill Graham and Linda Blair were there. And there was my big-band-loving uncle and his rock-band son. Lou was so proud of him."

Vernon 'Lou' Hlubek Born: Jan. 5, 1924 Died: March 24, 2013 Survived by: Children, Richard of Chattanooga, Tenn., and David and Sharon, both of Jacksonville, Fla.; sister, Marceline Barta of Minnesota; six grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren Services: Funeral, 10 a.m. Monday at Sierra View Funeral Chapel, 6201 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael

Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.

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