JWV Commander David George was a Marine on the spot in the “Forgotten War.”
Wearing his lucky mezuzah around his neck, Marine Pfc. David George spent a few months during the Korean War dashing around that country’s mountainous terrain “spotting” targets for bombardment by U.S. Navy ships — while bullets constantly whizzed over his head.
Fortunately, he escaped without wounds. “George displayed outstanding ability and professional skill,” reads his commendation. “Under enemy attacks, he expressed complete disregard for his personal safety by exposing himself to intense hostile mortar and small arms fire … as he voluntarily directed accurate and devastating artillery fire on the enemy.”
George earned a pack of medals, including two Bronze Stars, before the war ended. Now, George, 81, who lives in Auburn Hills, is the new commander of the Michigan Jewish War Veterans posts.
As Veterans Day approaches (Nov. 11), he’ll have a prominent, but less dangerous role in the annual observance, “marching in a parade or giving some speeches,” he said. “I’ll also attend Veterans Day Shabbats at synagogues in the community.”
George grew up in Detroit and started learning engineering at Cass Tech High School before being drafted at age 20. He chose the Marine Corps. After basic training and radio school in San Diego, he shipped out to Korea to fight in what has since become known as the “forgotten war” or a “police action,” as President Harry Truman called it.
Ruled by Japan since 1910, Korea was divided up by the allies after Japan was defeated in World War II; Communist Russia got the northern half, and the U.S. took the southern half, with the 38th Parallel as the dividing point.
When North Korea invaded the south in 1950 — the first armed combat of the Cold War — the U.S. and other United Nations forces interceded.
But U.S. troops comprised almost 90 percent of the 340,000 total troops, resulting in the deaths of more than 33,000 Americans. Thousands more were wounded, and the status of a few thousand MIAs still is uncertain even today. An armistice was reached in 1953.
“It was a strange war in many respects,” recalls George. “When I first got there, an officer ordered me to man a machine gun nest along the 38th Parallel, but he said, ‘Don’t shoot anybody.’ I thought that was weird, so I just sat there, listening to the sounds of women and children as they scurried around waving white handkerchiefs. It turned out that the families of the opposing Korean armies were allowed to walk in the line of fire, and visit relatives and bring food and gifts to each other.
“Also, each side would hold its fire to allow the other side to go out and collect the wounded and bodies of the dead.”
Spotted Precise Targets
George got more action when he joined a four-man team of “spotters” who ran through the hills and selected precise targets, radioing the ships with information for their guns.
“If shells missed the target, I would tell them to raise or lower the guns. We were so consumed by our job that we hardly noticed the gun and mortar fire at us.”
For protection, George wore a helmet and a flak jacket, “and the lucky mezuzah that my wife sent to me over there. Only one of our group was wounded.”
After the war, George was promoted to corporal and finished his Marine duty in 1960 by training officers in radio expertise at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia.
He graduated from the old Electronic Institute of Technology in Detroit and joined Ford Motor Company at its Dearborn Research and Engineering Center. “I spent 23 years with Ford, mostly in the dynamometer lab, testing vehicles under actual driving conditions,” he said.
600 JWV Members
George became a member of Maurice Rose Post #510 of the Jewish War Veterans in Southfield and recently was named commander of the nine Michigan JWV posts, chosen by the individual post commanders. Seven of the posts are located in the Detroit area, plus Grand Rapids and Saginaw; there’s a total of 600 members, a far cry from the end of WWII when each post had about 400-500 members.
The JWV was founded in 1896 around the time of the Spanish American War, and the organization now totals 37,000 nationwide.
Toward the end of the Korean War, Gen. Douglas MacArthur launched some intrusions into Communist China territory, disobeying Truman’s orders to desist. MacArthur even favored an invasion and also criticized Truman in a letter to a congressman. Truman then relieved MacArthur of his commander duties.
Were George and the Marines ready for an escalation of the war?
“Of course we were; we were Marines!” he exclaimed. “We were gung ho and ready to take on anything.”
By Bill Carroll, Contributing Writer