On August 1 1943, Lieutenant George Winger’36 pulled on his war-worn leather bomber jacket, readying himself for his final raid in the United States Air Force. The lieutenant had completed enough missions to go home, but he volunteered for one more, one of the most daring raids of his career. He wrote to his mother, “We have thought this thing through. We know the country needs us, and we don’t expect that we shall come back.”
Winger and several other B-24 bombers flew two-thousand miles from Egypt to descend upon Ploesti, an Axis-controlled city in Romania. The Ploesti oil fields were the target of U.S. Operation Tidal Wave, an effort in the “oil campaign” to destroy the city’s refineries. If successful, the operation would eliminate 30% of the Axis fuel supply.
Winger readied his formation for an aerial attack from the north and followed his commander’s orders to descend to treetop altitude-a treacherous and risky maneuver. The bombers successfully hit sectors of the refineries, but the United States had underestimated the Axis’ defense. The American fighter groups were battered by German anti-aircraft guns. Falling victim to the Germans’ overwhelming artillery attack, Winger’s flying boxcar was jolted to the side from an Axis offensive. Flames engulfed the sides of the B-24, but Winger refused to give up on the lives of his men.
He resisted surging heat and smoke and forced the aircraft to obey his direction. Witnesses say his B-24 climbed steeply to 500 feet, which took tremendous effort, as the bomber was sputtering and nearly stalling in air. Winger continued to steer skyward, allowing his crewmen to bail and parachute to safety.
After his men had escaped, he performed one last act of courage. Instead of attempting to bail himself, he pulled the plane high enough so that the explosive debris would not hit his crew. George Winger gave one last salute to a pilot in a neighboring plane.
Winger was an admired student and athlete of Columbus Academy’s class of 1936. His headmaster called him, “upright, confident, genial, resourceful, trusted.” To everyone, he was “Fuzzy,” because of his natural warmth and charisma. He hung out with friends at Wentz’s corner drug store and soda shop where Graeter’s is today, at the corner of Drexel and Main. He was certainly excited that the 1935 Ohio State football team finally had won the Big Ten title after a fifteen year drought. His best friends, Dan Carmichael’36 and Jack Farrar’36, went to Princeton, but George enrolled at OSU in its engineering program. After Pearl Harbor, he enrolled in the United States military.
George Winger is one of over five-hundred Academy veterans. Current teachers Jasiliki Davidson, Neal O’Brien, and Dan Olexio served in the United States Army. Additionally, Dennis Gilman, Matt Mele and Tim Metcalf were members of the United States Air Force.
Tomorrow at 7:43AM, the bell will toll 501 times in recognition of our Academy alumni, faculty, and staff, who have served our country in the military. Each toll tells a story, and each toll honors a life. Let us pause to commemorate the sacrifices each has paid for our freedom.
See Andrew Barren’s (2022) 360 video on Veterans Day, to be released later this week.