2015-11-05 / Front Page

A Lucky Man and a Place in History

By Jack Kelly

World War II veteran George O'Hara and fellow B-29 Bombers. World War II veteran George O'Hara and fellow B-29 Bombers. Newport resident George O’Hara considers himself a very lucky man. At the age of 89 and about to turn 90, O’Hara has much to be thankful for. Born in Boston, he was one of eight children in a tight-knit family. He answered the call of duty on Oct. 6, 1943, at the age of 17 and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps with hopes of becoming a pilot. “I was color-blind and that ended that idea, but I stayed in the Army and trained to be a gunner and a mechanic,” O’Hara said with a laugh.

O’Hara shipped out to the Pacific Theatre in late 1944, and was eventually assigned to the 20th Air Force, 17th Bomb Squadron, 16th Bomb Group, as a tail gunner in a B-29. “We were stationed on Guam and all of our missions were at night over Tokyo and Osaka. We were hitting oil refineries and coal liquefaction plants in those areas. We would leave Guam at about 5 p.m. and return about 9 a.m. the next morning. The average mission was 14 hours, but we were young and strong, and it didn’t bother us that much," O’Hara said.

Sgt. George O'Hara Sgt. George O'Hara O’Hara produced his mission log and mission diary, treasured items he’s kept for over 70 years. “I flew 13 bombing missions and two rescue missions," he said. "All of the details I kept in these two books.” His mission log detailed weather, targets, bomb loads and enemy opposition in the mission areas, while the diary revealed his thoughts, observations, and feelings about each sortie over enemy territory. “At night we flew in a straight line, one plane behind the other. The enemy would attack us from the rear and I couldn’t fire at times for fear of striking other bombers. It was tough, but that’s what we had to do. They had 300 searchlights and 700 flak cannons around the target in Tokyo, but we just did our job,” O’Hara said.

O'Hara's medal shadowbox. O'Hara's medal shadowbox. O’Hara’s last diary entry was made on August 15, 1945. It reads: “Longest bombing mission ever flown in history–Maximum effort of wing. U.S. Fleet was circling outside Tokyo Bay south of heavily defended Choshi Point. Went across Japan to Sea of Japan. On way over to Sea of Japan saw another wing hitting Tokyo area. Large fires and bomb flashes– saw huge flash over target area–must have been B-29 exploding from a direct hit. Went back across Japan to Pacific and started home. Hit Iwo [Iwo Jima was a refueling stop and emergency landing airfield for B-29s] in daylight this time because of distance. Found out about Peace 300 miles out from Guam. Not much gas left but we made it in. We were first ship of group home!”

The final two words on the final page of O’Hara’s war diary read, “Le Finis!” For his efforts during the war, O’Hara was decorated with two Air Medals with oak leaf clusters, the Good Conduct Medal, and various campaign medals.

After the war O’Hara used his G.I. Bill benefits to earn a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Wentworth Institute. His first job out of school was at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., working for the U.S. Air Force Research Center. It was here that O’Hara met his wife, Diane. After dating for a year the two were married in 1957. The couple moved to the American Southwest, where O’Hara worked for the Albuquerque-based Sandia Corporation in the Atomic Weapons Program. “My job was to make sure they went off and worked properly,” O’Hara said. In 1959, the young family of four moved back to New England when O’Hara accepted a job with Raytheon as a mechanical engineer.

Diane O’Hara explained, “We moved to Newport in 1965 to a home George built on Sullivan Street in the Fifth Ward. It was a great neighborhood and there was such a feeling of family and caring.” In the 1970s, O’Hara survived a bout with a potentially deadly disease known as sarcoidosis. The same disease struck their oldest son, William, a captain in the U.S Army and a helicopter pilot, and claimed his life in 1990. “The doctors don’t know what causes it, and there is no cure,” Diane O’Hara said.

Diane and George have been married for 58 years. Their greatest joys are each other, their seven children, and 14 grandchildren. “He’s a master builder, carpenter and painter. He's built three houses, and is constantly working on something around here. I believe that is how he dealt with any PTSD from the war," said Diane. "By keeping busy and using his hands. He's a good man, father, husband, and he's all about family."

Now facing 90, it doesn’t look as if George O’Hara will be slowing down. His latest project is the restoration of a Grand Banks dory named Tecumseh, that he and his brothers built in 1965. “There's been a lot of fish, lobster pots and other stuff that have gone over the gunwales in the past. I want to get her back in shape,” O’Hara declared.

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