Meet your neighbor... George Walsh, World War II veteran
*note: This story was updated Sept. 19. The original story said Walsh fought in the Battle of Midway. He fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima.*
DARIEN — George Walsh said as far as he knows he is the second-oldest dive bomber alive from World War II.
Walsh, a 97-year-old Darien resident, was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. During his youth, he would see pictures that affected his view on warfare.
“I had cousins who fought in the trenches in World War I,” he said. “As a child, I visited them and I saw their view books of life in the trenches.”
Images of mud, dead horses and soldiers dying made Walsh determined to never have to fight in the trenches. However, he said as a student at Brooklyn College he knew war was on the horizon again. Walsh said he did not want to simply be a doughboy or soldier riding a horse, so he chose a different military effort.
“I began applying to the Naval aviation cadet program,” he said. “That was a program where you signed up and then you went back to college. You were supposed to finish college and then you would go into the Navy.”
That all changed when Pearl Harbor occurred, he said. In 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, Walsh became active duty and left college.
“I had a natural feeling for flying,” Walsh said. “My family was a poor family in Brooklyn. They didn’t have a car. So I learned to fly in the Navy before I learned how to drive a car.”
Walsh said in some ways this may have helped him. Not having to overcome the habits a person may have from driving allowed him to learn unrestricted, he said.
Walsh fought in the war as a dive-bomber as a member of the Navy Reserves. He fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
“You came flying in straight down, hanging by your seatbelt and looking at the ship that was your target,” he said. “You had two-second intervals between the aircraft. You had six planes in a division with two seconds of separation. So you had six planes coming straight down at a Japanese ship.”
Walsh said dive-bombing is often misunderstood. Images that show planes flying straight down or simply flying straight and dropping a bomb were incorrect, he said.
“The only time a plane can go straight down is in a tail-spin,” Walsh said.
Instead, dive bombers were trained to fly at a flight path of 70 degrees while the altitude of the plane was vertical. A yoke, or displacing gear, was attached to the bomb to throw the bomb clear of the propeller, he said.
“You were hanging in the cockpit from your seatbelt and you’re looking straight down at the planes ahead of you. You could see their bomb drops and them pulling out before you made yours,” Walsh said.
Walsh did two tours of sea duty and left the military right after the war ended.
“I was one of the first ones to get out in 1945,” he said. “I figured the guys that got out first would get whatever jobs that are available.”
One of the things that helped with the process of so many people returning from the war was the G.I. bill, Walsh said. The process of getting re-acclimated was difficult for so many veterans returning, he said.
“I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to get a job,” Walsh said.
Walsh said he was fortunate to be living back home and was able to take the subway into Manhattan to look for jobs. He said at one point he was offered a job to teach flying to the Brazilian military, but he declined.
“I got introduced to a small advertising agency in the Times building in New York,” he said. “I was on commission and I worked my way up from there.”
Walsh said years later in 1989, at a reunion with fellow veterans from his squadron, he pondered why dive bombers’ importance wasn’t shown more in history
“During those critical years of 1942 and 43, when victory was hanging in the balance, the only weapon the Navy had working was the dive bombers in the air and the Marines on the ground,” he said. “Yet there was never any recognition of that.”
Walsh said from that moment on, he started collecting information on dive bombing. He also began to research the Battle of Midway. Walsh would publish much of his findings in his book, “The Battle of Midway: Searching for the Truth,” published in 2015.
In 2004, Walsh created a blog titled “A Critical Revisit to the Battle of Midway.”
A new film, “Midway,” is scheduled to come out in 2019. After years of doing his own research, he hopes the film will show an accurate portrayal of what happened, he said.
“Hopefully they have read my blog,” Walsh said jokingly.