Lt. George W. Spicer, USAAF
375th Fighter Squadron,
361st Fighter Group
World War II
A TOAST TO GEORGE SPICER
The Fastest Man in The Sky
He didn't like to talk about war. Many vets don't. When I asked George W. Spicer to talk to me about his experiences as the pilot of a P-51 fighter plane in Europe in World War II, he hesitated and said, "I had a friend in the Pacific who was a fighter pilot and he had some tough times and he didn't want to talk about it, and neither do I." "I will say, that I flew a P-51 and it was the fastest thing in the sky. I could fire at my target on the ground and be gone before anyone on the ground knew what had hit them," Spicer added.
When World War II began, George was on guard duty outside his frat house, with a broomstick in his hand and a lampshade on his head. When he left Lowell Textile College to visit his parents during the Christmas holidays, George begged them to allow him to become a cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps. His father exclaimed, "If God had wanted you to fly, He would have given you wings." They reluctantly signed the papers, still damp with Mrs. Spicer’s tears. And, in January 1943, George left home and went off to win the war for his country. "It was the only time I saw my dad cry... I guess we both did," Spicer wrote in his memoir, which he entitled, "Reflections of a World War II Fighter Pilot."
After three months of testing, George began real training at Fort Maxwell in Alabama. Senior cadets hazed George and the other new cadets by making them salute Coca Cola boxes among other humiliating acts. All of a sudden, George’s father died of a brain hemorrhage. He got a week off for the funeral before he returned to Maxwell to finish his ground training.
The long awaited day finally came at Souther Field in Americus, Georgia. George was about to fly a Stearman biplane trainer for the first time. George was exhilarated. After all, this was the place where the most famous pilot of all time, Charles Lindbergh, made his first solo flight some twenty years before. George learned to spin, stall, dive, roll and loop. And he loved it, although he did comment, "Only my laundry knew how scared I really was."
George safely made it through basic training at Greenwood, Mississippi without a scratch. As a part of his mandatory requirements to graduate from Advance Flight Training School, Spicer and the other cadets were required to fly a cross-country flight to fields in Opelika, Selma, and Dothan, all without the use of flight instruments. Cadet Spicer described the flight conditions, "It was a hazy day, rather like flying in a milk bottle." He joked, " But my friend and I thought that it was easy enough that we could do a little dog fighting on the way." Soon the boys lost sight of each other. George set out to find the line between his last two landing sites. Instead, he wound up way down in Marianna, Florida, with little fuel in his tank and red all over his face. For a few days after his return, he wore the horse collar of harangues, jokes and ribbing.
Graduation day came on April 15, 1944. George’s mother pinned a pair of wings on her officer son’s uniform for the first time. But graduation didn’t mean it was time to go to war, not just yet. Lt. Spicer returned to Georgia, where in Thomasville he trained some more in P-39 and P-40 fighters.
Just after Christmas, George and his squadron were sent to England aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth. His orders read that George was to report to the headquarters of the 375th Fighter Squadron of the 361st Fighter Group in Little Walden in East Anglia. Lieutenant Spicer practiced for a few days, flying in close formation, taking off from the leader’s wing, and maneuvering in inclement weather.
Then came the day of his first mission. His thumping heart rose into his throat. George’s greatest hope was that whatever happened, he would not disgrace himself, his flight, his family, his country and his God. He got up early, received a blessing from chaplain Father Joe, ate a light meal and set out for the flight room. Dressed for the below zero weather at normal flying altitudes, George ran through his checklist and waited for the signal to take off in his fighter plane.
And he was off. The target was Kiel in northern Germany. The mission was to escort a flight of B-24 Liberators on a bombing run. The bomb crews were glad to have fighter escorts. In the early years of the war, fighter planes had a relatively short range. Tens of thousands of Americans lost their lives in the skies of Europe. In point of fact, one of sixteen combat deaths in all of World War II were attributed to members of the Eighth Air Force. Spicer described the five-hour mission as "four hours and fifty-seven minutes of boredom and three minutes of pure panic." As flack exploded about him and shook his aircraft, George all too quickly realized the fact, "that someone is trying to kill me." Most of the missions were the same, escorting bombers to and from their target, but others included strafing airfields, a task George feared because of the well-armed anti-aircraft guns surrounding them.
In looking back on his year of combat duty, George Spicer was thankful to a great number of people who helped him wrestle with being in the killing business. After all, he was to his final day a devout Presbyterian and his God told him that it was wrong to kill. He was never vengeful though he lost his childhood friend in a flight training accident. George’s heart, and it was a big one, sunk every time a fellow crew member was killed in action and his belongings were removed from the barracks as if he had never existed. Most important, George, the pilot, was always grateful to those on the ground who made his plane fly, and George, the Christian, always took comfort that every time he was in the air, he felt the presence of his two co-pilots, his earthly father and his heavenly father.
George Spicer moved to our town of Dublin three times during his life. First he came here with the love of his life, Miss Barbara Whittier. George worked as a textile engineer with Textile Aniline & Derby Company along with his good friends Dick Henry and Joe Uliano. It was here where George and Barbara chose their daughters Candy and Heather to join their family on the days they called "their happy days." The Spicers left Dublin for North Carolina, but only after more than a quarter of a century of giving back to the community who had welcomed them so kindly and whom they loved so much. They returned nearly a decade later when George came back to work for J.P. Stevens & Company - only to move to their second home in Charlotte once again.
The last time was last summer. This time George came back without Barbara, who had died in 2006. He made one last trip back to Massachusetts to visit Barbara's grave before returning back to Dublin to visit with his old friends. But without Barbara, life in Dublin was just not the same. Very soon, a long life took its toll on George.
At 11:30 hours on the morning of November 22, 2008, sixty-one years to the day after he and Barbara walked down the aisle in marriage, the great flight controller in the sky summoned George to the flight line. George, to whom romance with Barbara was never hopeless, put on his best flight gear and a new set of wings, started his P-51, and raced into the eternal skies of heaven as fast as he could to join his beloved bride for an evening of dining and dancing in the clouds. It was the first day of a new life where every day will always be a "happy day."