George Walsh; 96 years young

At the far right is my friend and fellow aviator George Walsh at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, standing with Phillip McClusky, the son of Battle of Midway hero Wade McClusky. Between them is sculptor Susan Geissler at the dedication of the statue she produced to honor and remember what Buffalo native McClusky did 75 years ago.

More than anyone else, George made this long overdue recognition of McClusky by his own hometown a reality. George is a man who gets things done.

When World War II broke out, George left his home in Flatbush and like so many hundreds of thousands and millions of American kids went into the service. George became a Navy carrier pilot, and by 1944 was deployed aboard USS Ticonderoga flying the front line SB2C Helldiver dive bomber as part of Bombing Squadron Eighty. When a kamikaze ripped through Tico only 20 feet from his squadron ready room killing six of his fellow aviators, he and the survivors of VB-80 went over to USS Hancock to continue their combat sorties against a determined enemy. Men like George didn’t let off the gas in the war against Japan one bit.

After the war like so many others of the Greatest Generation, George made his way in the world. He married and went into Madison Avenue marketing. He had his own marketing firm, and told me his biggest client was Barbasol Shaving Cream. George was working in Manhattan in advertising in the 1960’s, during the time depicted on the old “Mad Men” series. I asked him if he ever watched the show and he said no – why would he want to watch bad behavior and images like that? He said his time on “Madison Avenue” was not like that.

He sold his firm and went into investment advising, along the way fathering four children who were successful in life and blessed him with seven grandchildren. He was a leader in his community of Darien, Connecticut, and we can think of him like those Billy Joel sang about:

…our fathers fought the Second World War

Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore…

Along his life’s journey he had his share of disappointment. His loving wife passed away years ago, and he suffered a stroke. He offered me a drink once and I asked if he was going to have one. “No, I’ve already had my lifetime supply,” he smiled.

I met him through fellow Battle of Midway enthusiast Will Dossel whom many of you know through his nom-de-guerre Steeljaw Scribe. Five years ago I visited George in his spacious Darien home in a wooded neighborhood, not far from the waterfront, where he raised his handsome family. Evidence of a life well lived.

He brought me to his study, and I was stunned with what I saw. Dark wood shelving was covered with books about naval aviation, many I recognized and many I did not. George had a blog, still does, and what he writes about is the Battle of Midway. He knows of what he writes.

George knows that it was dive-bombers, led by CAG Wade McClusky of Enterprise – and by Commander Max Leslie of Yorktown – that found and destroyed three of four Japanese carriers in the waters off Midway on June 4, 1942. That afternoon Enterprise dive bombers went back and sank a fourth. George writes that throughout the Pacific War it was dive bombers, not submarines or big gun ships, that accounted for more Japanese naval tonnage than any other weapon system. He’s analyzed the decision matrix of leaders in Makalapa Hill and on the carrier bridges. There were all kinds of SNAFU’s – to be kind – on the American side during that battle and even though we knew exactly where the ships would be and even the names of the ships we still almost blew it. McClusky – and Leslie – saved our bacon that morning.

George laments the cover ups involving our poor torpedoes, the track taken by Hornet’s Air Group, the unfair attention given to the torpedo bombers (which I too am guilty of), the wrong decisions of RADM Fletcher and the continued refusal of the Navy to open up the sealed records of Midway. After 75 years it is still not available to the public. Why, he asks. I’d like to know too. All of us want an accurate record from which to study.

George moved out of his home not long after I visited. He moved into an assisted living facility where he still blogs and – at age 96! – wrote and published a book about Midway. The Battle of Midway: Searching for the Truth

Also during this time he has spearheaded the effort to recognize McClusky – who received a Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his actions at Midway – to be awarded the Medal of Honor. When you read of McClusky’s actions, I too believe it is warranted. It is George, quite hale at 96, who speaks about Midway and its place in world history, and the place of the dive bomber in naval history. It is not sour grapes or resentment. George is a man of action, and he wants to see his fallen comrades receive their due and set the record straight.

It was George, more than anyone else, who made the ceremony in Buffalo a reality, giving the public and local schoolchildren a hero to emulate and be proud of.

Who knows how many carrier based dive bomber pilots from World War II are left. “To what do you attribute your long life?” I asked him at his kitchen table. He thought for a moment, and answered simply. “Luck.”

If you have an interest in Midway, get George’s fascinating book. Find his blog to learn about how Midway shaped the world and McClusky’s part in it. Smile that men like George stepped up to fight totalitarianism 75 years ago, and came home to build up our society to even higher heights.

Lieutenant Commander George Walsh – Warrior, Leader, Friend.

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