Hallock Ward Culver of Westhampton, an 11th-generation Long Islander whose rescue during World War II inspired a John Wayne movie, has died. He was 93.
The cause of death, on Nov. 7 at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, was heart failure and complications of pneumonia, said his son, Daniel Culver of East Islip.
Descended from the earliest Puritans who settled Long Island in the 1600s, the elder Culver could trace his ancestry to founders of Brookhaven, Smithtown and Southold, and many others whose names dot the municipalities and roadways of Suffolk and beyond, according to the son.
On Feb. 4, 1943, 21-year-old Hal was a flight engineer aboard a C-87 cargo plane when a winter storm blew the four-engine aircraft into remote Canada — 400 miles to the nearest outpost; the plane had to make an emergency landing on a frozen lake. Over the next 31 or so days, the men aboard suffered hunger and arctic cold, but spotted a plane; Culver shot a flare into the air, and the other plane dropped supplies. The crew would finally be rescued March 6, 1943.
The pilot and author Ernest Gann was among the searchers, and he chronicled the rescue in the 1944 book “Island in the Sky” — which became a best-seller and 1953 motion picture of the same title, starring John Wayne.
Hallock Ward Culver was born Dec. 24, 1921, to Katharine Ward Hallock and Herbert Reeve Culver, in a house built by the couple on Baycrest Avenue in Westhampton. He graduated, in 1939, from Westhampton Beach High School and later from Roosevelt Aviation School in Mineola, joining American Airlines, where he worked as a flight engineer and mechanic. He ended up working for the Army as a civilian in its Air Transport Command, with missions over Brazil, Scotland, India, China, parts of Africa and elsewhere. He received the European African Middle Eastern Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and Presidential Unit Citation, according to his discharge papers.
During a brief stint after being drafted into the Army, Culver met the woman who would be his wife, the former Vivian Akin, in Lawton, Oklahoma, and they married on Thanksgiving Day 1946. The newlyweds moved to Westhampton, where Culver took a job at his father’s business, H.R. Culver Plumbing Co., which the elder man had founded in 1910. The business is still run by family in Westhampton on Baycrest Avenue.
Culver’s funeral was Nov. 11 at Westhampton United Methodist Church, where he was a lifelong member and chairman of the church board of trustees for more than 40 years. Burial was in the family’s plot at Westhampton Cemetery.
In addition to his son and wife of 68 years, Vivian, 93, Culver is survived by daughter Lauren Barlow of Westhampton; sons Dean H. of Westhampton and Wayne T. of Smithtown; a sister, Marian Phillips, of Westhampton; a brother, Warren, of Lawrence, Kansas; 13 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren — the family’s 13th and 14th generation of Long Islanders.