|Veteran Spotlight: Airman Woolfe Flew Bombing Missions in South Pacific|
|By Wayne Soares, iBerkshires columnist|
04:32PM / Sunday, November 24, 2019
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — At 94 years young, George Woolfe is an engaging and affable, and a man who has carried himself with immeasurable class throughout his life.
Born in Harrisburg, Pa., he grew up in Manhattan, N.Y., and later received his degree from Columbia University. Woolfe's father, Irving (known to everyone as "Ike") was a decorated flyer in World War I. He now lives on Cape Cod but spent many summers in the Berkshires and was a frequent guest at the Red Lion Inn.
Woolfe enlisted in the Army Air Forces at 18 1/2 and served his country in World War II from 1942-1945 and is credited with an amazing 47 missions flown (his bomber group miraculously lost only one plane and that because of inclement weather).
He was sent to basic training in Atlantic City, N.J., where he and fellow airmen lived in hotels that served as barracks and underwent the many arduous tasks of their training. Airman Woolfe's first assignment was at Albright College in Reading, Pa. At the time, there was an intense demand for pilots, navigators and bombardiers.
Woolfe displayed exceptional aptitude by scoring 9 out of 9 on his navigation test. His flight training was at Maxwell Field in Alabama, where he became a pilot and flew a Piper Cub.
"It was a little scary, but exciting," he recalled. Because the Army had greatly exceeded its demand, many
pilots got "washed out" and Woolfe was sent to Navigator School in Coral Gables, Fla., at the University of Miami for around four months. He then went to Aerial Gunner School.
"It was quite interesting. I had never fired a gun before," he remembered. He was assigned to the West Coast and spent six weeks in Lemoore, Calif., then was shipped to the South Pacific as part of the 39th Bomber Group.
Woolfe flew in B-24 Liberators, including bombing missions over Japanese strongholds in the Phillipines, Leyte and Palawan. He recalled his first frightening experience when his plane landed on Mindoro Island.
"We were unloading supplies and refueling when a mass of Japanese kamikazes came out of the sky and began dropping bombs on us. We all hit the ground. Our P-38s took to the air to engage and shot down 10 of 12 planes," he said proudly.
When asked about the holidays overseas, Woolfe quickly replied, "What holidays? We had no place to go. We were all hoping to get leave and go to Australia but it didn't happen. We saw some pretty decent entertainment though, USO type shows."
He also shared a very haunting memory that he still has trouble with -- the loss of a very good friend.
"We were coming back from a bombing mission and hit extremely bad weather. We had a squadron of six B-24s. We were told to drop down significantly below the storm, about 500 feet off the water. One of the planes was piloted by my closest friend, Earl Ellsworth," Woolfe said. "Really good guy from Maine. He peeled off to the left instead of right and smashed right into a mountain."
When asked if he still had trouble dealing with the tragedy, Woolfe took a moment and replied soflty, "yup. We were close. We hung out all the time. The toughest thing I've ever had to do was go back to Maine after my discharge and tell his parents that he wasn't coming back."
The memory still pains him after all these years.
Throughout the 47 bombing missions and tragedy that engulfed him during his service, the veteran did recall one of the very few beautiful moments of his service.
"We were returning from a bombing mission in New Guinea. We landed on an island that the Air Force had control of. There were no barracks so at night, we slept on the beach. I watched the full moon rise right out of the water. Amazing! It's a moment that I will never forget" he remembered.
He also shared a memory of significance after receiving news of the Japanese surrender. "We were spending our first night back at base when the air raid siren sounded. One Japanese plane attacked as we moved to battle stations. Our planes went up and shot him down but we lost one pilot in that senseless attack" he said sadly.
When asked his overall feeling on his service he exclaimed, "your main concern during war time is how you can get the hell out of it. It was an extremely good experience for me. I was very lucky."
Woolfe, who projected humility throughout our conversation, received five battle stars, five air medals and an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal. Airman George Woolfe, thank you for your service to our great country.
Veteran Spotlight is a special column by Wayne Soares that will run twice a month. Soares will be in the Persian Gulf this week, entertaining the troops prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. This article ran previously in the Falmouth Enterprise.