George Christodal was an 18-year-old paratrooper with a slightly more privileged occupational specialty than the combat troopers aboard FT923. He was trained in cryptography (secret coding) as a matter of chance assignment, or as he would say, by the toss of the coin.
He was from a family of four, with two brothers and one sister. He hated school and he dropped out of high school in the 10th grade at 16 years of age. He waited for the day he could get out of Dodge. He felt he didn’t fit in with his classmates in Providence, Rhode Island.
It was not a matter of handling the academics. He just didn’t want to go to school. After two years of going from one low paid job to next, he decided he wanted to join the Army for a little adventure. He had only two goals: 1) He wanted to go to Germany. He was excited by the lure of post war Europe and the chance for a different way of life. And 2) he wanted to be a paratrooper! Airborne all of the way! But his way of becoming a paratrooper was a bit different.
The Army needed people to learn cryptography and become a part of the Signal Corps. The Army also needed a handful of trained cryptographers to be airborne qualified. His lucky number was picked and he was ready to meet the challenge. However, after basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., he went directly to Signal Corps training and secret coding, doing exceptionally well, especially for someone who quit school at 16.
After his cryptography training, which consisted mostly of classroom work and sitting behind a desk, he moved on to Jump School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was thrown in with combat troopers who had an additional eight weeks of aggressive and strenuous physical exercise in the field. No matter. He not only rallied to the task at hand, but excelled, which is somewhat remarkable for his 5ft 6in stature and wiry frame. Then came the sudden news.
He was to go to Germany (along with several entire classes of new graduates) to get into the troop buildup surrounding the construction of the 866-mile long inner Germany border fence that ran from the Baltic Sea to Czechoslovakia. This was great news for George. Germany was exactly where he wanted to be.
He moved with his jump school classmates to the temporary staging area at Ft. Dix near McGuire Air Force Base to await assignment to a transport plane to Frankfurt. No one was sure as to what day the troops would be leaving.
As a badly needed airborne qualified cryptographer, George was separated from the other combat troops. He was allowed to kill time while “on a very long leash” (an Army term for minimal supervision or regimen).
All he had to do was check in occasionally with an easy-going sergeant at the base headquarters. He was to check the bulletin board regularly to see if he was posted on a flight manifest. He asked the sergeant when they would be leaving, The sergeant said, “at the end of the week.”
It was to be George’s last few days in the states. He wanted to go home to say goodbye to his girlfriend. Nothing seemed particularly pressing, so he slipped away, knowing he wouldn’t be missed by his temporary bosses who simply were not as rigid in proceedures as those in combat units. He slipped away unnoticed.
While he was gone for the weekend, his name popped up on the flight manifest, but he wasn’t there to see it. Flying Tiger 923 left that Sunday without him.
He knew nothing about the troubles of the flight until he got back to base the following Wednesday. He missed the flight and was caught “red handed” being AWOL. In 1962, being AWOL was a major offense.
He was called before the transfer center CO.
With George standing at attention, the CO said, “You know you were AWOL, don’t you? What do you have to say about it?”
George responded, “Yes, Sir. I know, and I am so glad I wasn’t on it.” At that time, while talking, he was silently thinking to himself, “I don’t think I would have survived. I don’t know how to swim.” (And that is so true. No amount of strength or stamina could compensate for the inability to swim, unless there was a huge amount of luck on one’s side.)
The CO said abruptly, “Just go back to your quarters and wait until I call you.”
Nothing more was said about his being AWOL. When he was finally called back, he was handed orders and a ticket on a TWA commercial flight leaving for Frankfurt, Germany from Idlewild airport (now JFK), exactly one week after the fatal flight of Flying Tiger 923.
He was driven unceremoniously to the NYC airport by jeep. Once on the aircraft, he was upgraded to first class. At that time it was the common treatment of all commercial airlines toward those in military uniform.
On the other end of the flight, at Frankfurt, Germany, he was greeted even less ceremoniously than as he left. There was no one at the airport to meet him. He had to find his own way to his assignment to a small unit of the Signal Corp attached to the 8th Infantry Division at Bad Kreutznack. He was later assigned to a Signal Unit at Kaiserslautern.
While in the Army in Germany, George learned how to speak German, how to play a guitar and sing, and how to ski. He got an overseas discharge and mingled with the Germans, singing and skiing across Europe. He never heard another thing about his being AWOL.
Later he returned home to Rhode Island. He got married (not the one he had gone AWOL to see) and went to Central Washington State College (now State University) at Ellensburg, Washington. He finished in two years and five months. He became a frequent traveler to Europe and enjoyed entertaining along the way. And he and his wife had four children.
Like many other paratroopers of that era, regardless of their military occupational specialty, George lived hard and recklessly, even while learning how to be a good civilian. He kept himself in good physical condition however None-the-less his hard living over the years led to a heart attack at age 57.
After some 11 to 12 lifeless minutes with no pulse, he was brought back to a heart beat, but remained in a coma for six days. George straightened out and continued in his career in real estate investment and development near Charleston, South Carolina.
George Christodal was one who got away. Sometimes he feels he would like to have been there on the plane to help others, but he knows, realistically, he would have been one of those who needed help the most or he would have died. He couldn’t swim.