Editor’s note: George Koenig died 30 years ago from mesothelioma. Information obtained from military records, articles in the Spencerville Herald and as told to June Koenig, his wife of 36 years. He was a B-24 pilot; served in the South Pacific, received the Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster; Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon with five bronze service stars, two overseas service bars.
George Arden Koenig, from Spencerville, entered the military with World War II on the horizon when he joined the Army on June 20, 1941, as an airplane mechanic. He was assigned to the 87th Bomb Squadron, 46th Bomb Group, 5th Air Support Command at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. He was promoted to corporal on Feb. 1, 1942. After he lost part of his right index finger in an accident while working on an aircraft, George decided to attend training to become a pilot.
George graduated from Advanced Flying School at Stockton Field, California, on June 18, 1943. He was commissioned on June 22, 1943. Lieutenant Koenig became a full-fledged pilot and was placed in active duty. Lt. Koenig then completed his first tour of duty as a B-24 Liberator pilot in the South and Southwest Pacific area with the 13th Army Air Force’s famous “Long Rangers.”
During this year-long tour, he completed over 36 missions and had over 450 combat flying hours. Some of the targets that Lt. Koenig helped diminish were Bougainville, in the Northern Solomon Islands, Rabaul in the Bismark Archipelago, Truk, the Japanese “Pearl Harbor,” Yap Palau and Wolaei in the Mandated Islands, Biak, Manokwari in Dutch New Guinea, Ceram and Balikpapan, the “Japanese Ploesti” in Netherlande East Indies and Japanese airdromes in the Central Phillipines. One of his most important missions was the mass bombing raid over the Japanese oil refinery at Balikpapan in Eastern Borneo, which he repeated for a second time. For his efforts during this tour, Lt. Koenig was presented the Air Medal and holds the Battle Star and campaign ribbon for the Northern Solomons. He received the Air Medal for his work with experimental radar missions to hunt down Japanese submarines.
One time Lt. Koenig returned after the start of a mission when he felt the plane was unsafe for flying. Facing a possible dishonorable discharge for returning before the mission was accomplished, it was determined by a ranking officer who took the plane up, that the plane was indeed malfunctioning and would have been unsuccessful in completing the mission. By identifying the plane’s problems in a timely manner, Lt. Koenig had saved the life of his flight crew.
Another time when they returned late in the evening from a mission, they found the enlisted men’s mess had closed but the officer’s mess was still open. They were told that the officers could eat, but the enlisted men did not have a place to eat. Lt. Koenig argued successfully that all of the crew had a right to have a good meal and was able to get all of his crew fed at the officer’s mess.
One mission included Lt. Koenig flying a heavily loaded bomber from San Francisco, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. The payload was so heavy that Lt. Koenig had to fly close to the water. At times, he was so close that he had to use his plane’s windshield wipers to clear the ocean spray from the windshield of the plane. Due to his experience and skills as a pilot he arrived safely with his plane in Hawaii.
Once during a long mission, when he was resting, Lt. Koenig was awakened when he noticed a difference in the sound of the propellers. His co-pilot was amazed that George had awakened due to the different sound. The co-pilot was trying to adjust the plane’s engines to conserve fuel.
During his service, George never lost any crew members or planes. He always knew he would return from missions as long as he had his New Testament and scarf with him. The scarf was printed with maps of the various islands and archipelagos they flew over.
After his overseas tour of duty was complete, Lt. Koenig was assigned to Victorville Army Air Field in California to train new combat crews. He was released from duty on Oct. 13, 1945 and remained in the reserves until Sept. 28, 1957.