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Combat Comrade: Bidding farewell to WWII legend

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

• George England's​ B-24 Crew Had Rare Pet Mascot​

This article first appeared as the cover story in the December 2022 edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication

By Chloe Kieper — Special to Today Magazine

Editor’s Note — A friend (aka comrade) to so many, World War II hero George England was born on October 13, 1924 and died on November 23, 2022 — reporter Chloe Kieper had the privilege of interviewing him in September, about two months before his death •

GEORGE WESLEY ENGLAND was a Navy airman during World War II, flying in B-24 Liberators. A longtime Avon resident, he passed away the day before Thanksgiving at 98 years old.

His story is both unique and complex — a man of incredible strength and perseverance, he faced an unforgiving and relentless force throughout his service in the Pacific theater. For his bravery, England received the Distinguished Flying Cross — the highest American aviation award, given “for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight,” per the U.S. Air Force website.

England grew up in Manchester, Conn., and graduated from Manchester High School. He was drafted into the military soon after graduation, serving from June 1943 until April 1946. He attended various Navy training schools and found himself in the midst of a world he had never experienced before.

England had never been on a plane until he entered the Navy. He considered himself to be “pretty good mechanically”— and that is how he found himself working in Memphis as an aviation mechanic, and later at Jacksonville’s Naval Aviation Technical Center.

At the beginning of his service in Jacksonville, he was on the beaching crew for the PBY Catalina flying boat (aka seaplane) — “PB” stands for patrol bomber, and “Y” was the code assigned to the manufacturer, Consolidated Aircraft. Consolidated also produced the B-24 Liberator bomber.

George England and his B-24 crew ​had a​ German shepherd mascot​ named​ Shiba​ — courtesy photo​

The job of the beaching crew was to swim out to the flying-boat aircraft in the water, grab ties attached to the rear of the seaplane, and then attach the cables to a tractor that pulled the amphibious aircraft out of the water and onto a ramp. The work was tiring and hard, England said — and where beginner Navy members started.

One of the biggest changes in his early military life was rather unexpected —

cockroaches. England was shocked (and disappointed) to discover the multitudes of cockroaches in Memphis and Jacksonville.

After spending time in the South, England was stationed in Wichita, Kansas, before heading to Camp Kearny, an airfield base about 10 miles from San Diego where he first met the members of the crew he would be with for the duration of World War II. He had previously completed several stages of basic training at other stations.

He remembers a time of panic when, during a training activity about 350 miles off the West Coast, his crew tried to operate the sextant — a device used to discover latitude and longitude — only to find out that it wasn’t working.

Panicked, the crew turned the plane around in hopes of finding their way back to Camp Kearny without navigation. They discovered a bright spot on the horizon. The bright spot turned out to be San Clemente Island, a U.S. Navy base in Los Angeles County. The crew eventually made their way back to Kearny, using San Clemente as a landmark.

​This ​B-24 Liberator was nicknamed Golden Girl — George England's favorite plane was Modest Miss — courtesy photo

Throughout his WWII service, England learned about a variety of planes — the PBY Catalina twin-tail seaplane, PB4Y-2 Privateer, and his favorite, the B-24 Liberator. England would go overseas in the B-24 — he had never had the opportunity to travel overseas before. The B-24 Liberator typically had a crew of 10 men. England was an aerial gunner and a flight engineer.

Regarding the Navy’s plane assignments, England said it was “a mixed bag, everyone flew everyone’s plane”— but his favorite was a B-24 with the nickname Modest Miss.

After Camp Kearny, they were stationed in Hawaii to fly missions off the islands. Shortly before leaving Kearny, England and a few crew members borrowed a convertible. While traveling around town, they met two girls who had a dog. The Navy air crew asked if they could buy the dog, and after some hesitancy the girls said yes. George England’s crew now had a mascot — a female German shepherd named Shiba.

They took Shiba back to the base in a wooden crate and she flew on all their missions, essentially living on the plane and making England’s crew one of very few WWII Navy bomber crews with a pet mascot as a member of their team.

England experienced a range of new places during his service, traveling to locations such as Borneo, Guam, Guantanamo Bay, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

George England (bottom right) and his B-24 Liberator crew ​with Shiba​, their German shepherd mascot​ — courtesy photo​

He recalled a specific moment when flying into Hong Kong — he and his crew were amazed by the sight of the Yau Ma Tei boat people, who lived on interconnected chains of boats in the Yau Mei Tei typhoon shelter near Kowloon, a section of Hong Kong. Shocked by the sheer magnitude and expanse of the boat chains, the crew found themselves marveling at this new place and culture as they flew toward the city.

During WWII, Hong Kong was occupied by Japan from 1941 until 1945. As the crew was distracted by the views of the Yau Ma Tei settlement, a Japanese fighter plane crossed their path, and they were brought back to the danger of the moment— and the fact that they were flying in enemy territory. The crew avoided any confrontation by pure luck, England said.

England finished his service with 38 missions and did not have a single plane get hit hard by enemy firepower. After the war, he made his way back to Connecticut, working in Hartford for IBM before moving to Avon in 1980.

Over 75 years after his service ended, he remained a committed member of the veteran community and was steadily involved in Avon-based VFW Post 3272. He often participated in Veterans Day ceremonies in the Avon public schools.

George England was a man of the community — he joined a number of local clubs as he neared retirement age. Although the friends he made during WWII are scattered all over the country, he had the opportunity to reconnect with some of them and to meet new veterans through various clubs and activities.

He was incredibly close with his crew, having a relationship with them built upon the trust and teamwork needed to survive the danger of their missions. England said he respected and trusted the vast majority of the people he served with, and meeting other veterans after the war revealed a wonderful community of well-rounded colleagues.

What is the most important thing he learned from his World War II service that he wants today’s youth to know?

“Appreciate your country,” England said, “and don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise.” +

• More Info on His Life — The GEORGE ENGLAND File

• Reporter Chloe Kieper is a senior at Avon High School — she first met George England as a student at Avon’s Thompson Brook School after he spoke at a Veterans Day ceremony

• Chloe’s grandfather, Francis William Kieper, was a B-24 bomber pilot during WWII — he and George England were in different planes, but they served together in the Navy’s VPB-111 patrol bombing squadron

• Francis Kieper and George England both received the Distinguished Flying Cross — the U.S. military’s highest honor for aviation achievement

• Today Magazine editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert contributed to this story

— Distinguished Flying Cross recipient

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