I was immediately impressed with the manner in which this week’s Veterans Spotlight subject greeted me. At 94 years young, I found George Woolfe to be engaging, affable, and a man who has carried himself with immeasurable class throughout his life. Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he grew up in Manhattan and later received a degree from Columbia University. Mr. Woolfe’s father, Irving (known to everyone as Ike), was a decorated flier in World War I.
Mr. Woolfe enlisted in the US Air Force at age 18½. He served his country in World War II from 1942 to 1945 and is credited with an amazing 47 missions flown (his bomber group miraculously lost only one plane; that was due to inclement weather). He was sent to basic training in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he and his fellow airmen lived in hotels that served as barracks .
Airman Woolfe’s first assignment was at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, with the US Army Air Corps. At the time there was an intense demand for pilots, navigators and bombardiers. Airman 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 Air Corps had greatly exceeded its demand, many pilots got “washed out” and Airman Woolfe was sent to navigator school in Coral Gables, Florida, at the University of Miami for about four months. He then went to aerial gunner school. “It was quite interesting. I had never fired a gun before,” he remembered. He spent six weeks in Lemoore, California, then was shipped to the South Pacific as part of the 39th Bomber Group.
Airman Woolfe flew in B-24s known as The Liberator and flew bombing missions over Japanese strongholds in the Philippines, 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, Airman Woolfe replied quickly, “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—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. Really good guy from Maine. He peeled off to the left instead of right and smashed right into a mountain....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.”
Airman Woolfe was able to recall a very beautiful moment from his military 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.
When asked his overall feeling on his service he said, “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.”
Airman Woolfe 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.