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Local WWII veteran gives rare insight into life on submarine

Photo provided by staff
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 8:00am

There are more than 20,000,000 veterans in the United States.

Every year on the 11th of November, we stop to thank them for their service, for the time and effort they gave, and the sacrifices they made for everyone else.

But there is one group of veterans that will not be around much longer.

There are fewer than 2,000,000 World War II veterans still alive. But the government predicts that number will drop to roughly 150,000 in the next decade.

At the behest of Rev. Juliet Spencer, Charlie George shared his personal recollections of the war with an audience of dozens at St. Andrew's United Methodist Church.

"I think he used to speak to children's groups, and a variety of places," Rev. Spencer said. "We've had him here at the church several times, and he always draws a crowd. Every time."

George entered the Navy when he was 17 years old, leaving his south Texas home for San Diego. He enlisted during World War II and was assigned to a submarine in the Pacific Theater. Those sailors were some of the best, because they had to learn every little piece of their boat.

"You're doing what you had to do," he stated, "because nobody could say, 'that's not my job.' You're job was: stay alive. You had to learn."

George never saw action, but he had lots of stories about life on a sub during the war, including the time it was hit by friendly fire.

"They spotted us off Pearl Harbor and thought we were one of the straggling Japanese submarines," he explained.

Charlie kept lots of personal effects, and he used them to relate to his audience. He brought his original uniform, several photos, models of the submarine he lived on, and the blue star flag that hung at his parents house while he was away.

"This is something that most people nowadays are not familiar with," he said of the small flag. "And I would think that would be something we'd want to do today, with people in the military."

While the audience as a whole skewed older, a handful of younger people were in the crowd, as well. Rev. Spencer invited George to speak because The Greatest Generation is about to be silenced by time.

"We're losing World War II veterans at an alarming rate," she said. "And I wanted Charlie to be able to share with people not the things you can read about in a book, but things, truly, that only you could know if you were there."

As long as veterans like Charlie George keep sharing their experiences, the rest of us can feel like we were there.

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