George Kolsun always wanted to fly. And during WW II he did, but not in the way he expected. “I wanted to be a pilot, but the Army put me into an airborne infantry unit.” Gliders! One of the most dangerous flying contraptions of the war. Worse, he was only a passenger. As part of his training in North Carolina he participated in the Knollwood Maneuvers, a notorious war exercise that set out to demonstrate current effectiveness of airborne forces. It was a massive failure, but the Army proceeded with the program anyway.

When George finally got the chance to leave the airborne infantry and train as a pilot, his program was cancelled by General Hap Arnold himself. Sorry George, he was told, but the war effort needs you at the front. “We know you will appreciate an early opportunity to engage with the enemy,” his new orders stated.

So, George found himself as a radioman chasing across Europe as part of the 20th Armored Division, and then, after Europe was won, he was sent to the Pacific. Years later after the war, George met General Paul Tibbets and thanked him for dropping the bomb. “You saved my life.”

This interview is a production of the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, in partnership with the nonprofit Veterans Breakfast Club. It was recorded February 9, 2013 at Providence Point retirement community, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


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