CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Only a little over three percent of WWII veterans are still with us, and another left us Wednesday morning.
Ninety-three-year-old George Bartell of Thunderbolt passed away in his home.
Bartell served in World War II overseas in October 1943 in England assigned to a B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber Crew in the 551 Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) of the 385 Bombardment Group, as well as part of the Mighty Eighth Air Force where he flew eight bombing missions over Nazi Germany as Radioman/Gunner. On a bombing mission over northern Germany, his B-17 was shot down out of the sky on April 22, 1944. All crew members parachuted and were immediately captured by the German Army. George was held in captivity as a Prisoner of War in Stalag 17-B in Krews, Austria until liberated 13 months later and continued serving until discharged in November 1945.
For his service in World War II, George earned and was awarded the Air Medal for Aerial Combat Missions, the Purple Heart for 25mm Shrapnel Wounds to his hand and arms, the POW Medal, the European Campaign Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, and the National Defense Medal. His wife passed 26 years ago, bringing him and his son Mark closer than ever. "I come over every day, in fact, the last few weeks I've been coming over every few hours," his son Mark Bartell said.
Mark found his father in peace Wednesday morning, and more about his noble past he never knew.
"It's an interview they did, I guess back in 1945. He ended up in an Austrian prison camp. Something I read here which he never told me, he and a couple other guys tried to dig a tunnel to escape."
They picked up the floorboard and dug with tin cans. It took three weeks to dig a 30-foot route to safety.
"They were about 20 feet to freedom when the tunnel was discovered by the Nazi's. As a result, the chapel was torn down immediately but none of the boys were caught," said Mark.
Bartell's next-door neighbor, Jeff Roseman, served in the Air Force reserves.
"George's life had a lot of inspiration for me. There are so many people these days that do something positive, they want everybody to know about it. He wasn't that way at all," Roseman said.
George began his employment with Grumman Aircraft in 1951, which brought him to Savannah in 1967. After a full career, George retired from Gulfstream Aerospace. His service in Veterans Organizations began in 1943 when his father signed him up with the Veterans of Foreign Wars as soon as George went overseas, 67 years ago, and George later became Commander of the local VFW Anthony P. Russell Post 4392 in 1995.
George organized the first chapter in Savannah of Ex-POW's and was the Charter Commander in 1988. He has been a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart since 1983 (27 years) and was commander circa 1993. He has been a contributing member of American Legion George K. Gannam Post 184 for the past 30 years and been an active participant in the effort to complete the WWII Memorial for Chatham County.
George J. Bartell was also selected by the Veterans Council of Chatham County as the 2010-2011 Veteran of the Year.
The funeral service will be at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, located at 51 Wilmington Island Road, on Monday, Dec. 4. Bartell will be buried next to his wife at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Thunderbolt.