We have several WWII veterans traveling with us to Normandy on our 75th Anniversary of D-Day tours. As we will do in the weeks leading up to D-Day, today we are spotlighting one veteran, George Cross. George, who was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, 505 PIR, C Company, will be traveling with Historian Harry Laver on the 75th Anniversary: Operation Overlord Tour courtesy of Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours.
George Cross, Paratrooper, 82nd Airborne
George Cross joined the Army after an Army recruiter talked to his high school Class about being in the airborne division. He and a buddy, Donovan, joined together, but sadly, Donovan was murdered by his father before he could make it. George named his first son after him. George was only 17 years old when he joined the Army. His brother also joined, which was somewhat forbidden for two sons to both be in the service in harm’s way.
George served in the 82nd airborne division and began his service in the 456th Parachute Field Artillery, 456 PFA. He transferred before they jumped to the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 505 PIR, because he was knowledgeable in glider training. He parachuted into Normandy 18 miles inside enemy lines on D-Day.
The men had “clickers” so that after they landed they could find each other. It was expected that the brush was only a couple feet high, but in reality the brush was much larger which caused many problems when they were landing. The parachutes that were used could not be steered like the hang gliders of today so you landed where you landed. This mission was considered a suicide mission in many ways and it turned out to be just that for many. George proudly states that he didn’t suffer a scratch but balks when he is called a “hero.” His eyes tear up when he thinks of many of his friends and companions who didn’t make it home. “They are the true heroes,” he says.
Among the battles that he fought in was Sainte-Mère-Église, where he took daggers from the SS troops who were captured during the first night of the battle. He gave them to the curator of the museum in Luxembourg before he was shipped out. The curator created a mannequin in George’s likeness that has the 82nd Airborne flag that George gave him.
He earned the rank of Sergeant before he completed his service.
Life After WWII
After serving, George used the skills he learned to be a smoke jumper fighting forest fires in Montana. He went on to be an instructor/professor at the University of Montana as a Physical Education instructor and worked in the Dean’s office dealing with students who got in trouble.
After retiring he became involved in Senior Olympics and competed as a javelin thrower for many years. He now lives in Sun City Festival Active Retirement Community outside of Phoenix, Arizona. He is the second to the oldest resident and is known and loved there. He makes clay characters to sell and he is a great dancer, which is his claim to fame. He has pretty much asked everyone woman who lives there to dance, and they all love dancing with him.