NO. 17635 •
Died 27 Jan 1965, of Bien Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, aged 40.
Interment: Greek Orthodox Cemetery, Ann Arbor, MI
GEORGE VLISIDES, The "Gorgeous One," was killed 30 years ago. His personality is still fresh: ambitious, eager, duty first, strong, help the underdog, proud, seek the adventure.
At hand is a letter from George of September 1956 with all abstract of events at West Point: socials in 1950; the Commandant’s party; TDY to the Air Ground School; tennis club's defeats; inquiries about the health of the children; touching all the bases; interested and interesting; balanced.
Detroit was the place of George's birth. His parents came from Greece and started successful restaurants in Detroit and Ann Arbor. He had a solid boyhood. The patriot sense was in place early.
After high school, George enlisted in the Air Corps and got his second lieutenant's bars and Bombardier Wings in 1944. During the rest of WWII, George flew in heavy bombers, but, to his chagrin, did not go overseas.
Michigan's Second District sent George to West Point in July 1946. Many of his classmates had prior service, including some 30 officers. The competition was stiff, and he liked that. In Beast Barracks, George could be seen, 3d rank, 2d file, hard, sweaty, angry, determined, a man to be reckoned with. Back at South Barracks, he was a man to help with the dress off, get the scratch out of the B-plate, and calm the storm. George went to C-1. From the first ranking he was our top plebe; and he stayed on top through our First Class year.
Math was tough; social sciences were a breeze. Soccer was a letter sport, but wrestling needed a little more time.
Many a Class of '50 wife later tried and failed to make a match for him. His ideal was a cross between Marilyn and a choir girl. George never married.
After graduation, George went to the Air Force and pilot training. He had a couple of bad days, got washed out, but he believed in himself. George took it to the Chief of Staff, re-entered the pilot program, and received his wings in March 1952. He fought with the 49th Fighter Bomber Wing in Korea, flying 84 missions in the F-84 and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, and the Air Medal with two clusters.
During the summer of 1954, George became a TAC in the Office of Physical Education. He cut an impressive figure for the cadets; he was in magnificent shape, and went to parachute school at Ft. Benning and got his jump wings. By this time he had lost his hair. He simply shaved it all and became even more arresting. We called it "aplomb," albeit a more mature front and top.
He wasn't mean enough for the cadets to anoint him as being legendary.
By the mid-fifties, many of the class went back to Alma Mater as captains, mostly married, in our prime. We loved George. He was steady, predictable, and ready to do bachelor things. He was always available for filling the party table. He was great for helping along a joke, even by being the subject of them.
By June Week 1955, George had acquired a long 1949 Lincoln convertible, purple and expensive. George took a full load to Camp Buckner for a picnic supper. As we parked by the shores of Lake Popolopen, a clean Chevy pulled alongside. The doors of both cars opened, but the other driver, a gray-haired ranger with a '35 arm band, was quick and said, 'After you, Sir!" Tact prevailed then, but later all holds were off and no mercy was shown our senior classmate. No party with George for the next 10 years failed to hear that story, and no C-1 formation since.
George served a tour in Europe and then graduated from the Air Command and Staff College in 1961. Next came staff duty with HQ AirTraining Command at Randolf AFB, and promotion to major. Vietnam was heating up, George was a Regular, and he wanted more combat. He volunteered in 1964. In October, he made a quick swing to the DC area for adieus, a stop by the Pentagon's D-Ring for the latest, and a pause for gifts to the girls. He had a charming way with childrcn, shy and sincere, no talking down, a sure vote getter. George was now full of happiness, confidence, abilities: the kind of man America sends to war, a West Pointer.
The 1st Air Commando Squadron became George's home on 5 Nov. His duty was operations officer, but he flew close support missions in combat as the pilot of A1E aircraft. For almost 3 months he flew strikes against targets in the northwestern arc around Saigon. He was awarded another Distinguished Flying Cross and two more Air Medals. On 27 Jan 1965, George and his enlisted Vietnamese observer flew as part of an afternoon squadron strike. The mission was a success. At 1650 hours, with the sun dropping but the weather good, George made his landing approach. His left wing dropped, caught, the bird rolled, crashed, burned. That was it; both men were killed. Lindbergh has told us, "An airplane is like a rattlesnake; watch it every second for it is just waiting to bite you."
It was a quick bite of bad luck. George had 2,600 flying hours and 2,000 hours first pilot time. He had 154 hours in the A1E. It was a truly bad snake bite.
Funeral services were held for George in the Greek Orthodox Church in Ann Arbor on 5 Feb 1965. A memorial service for his many friends and classmates was held at the Ft. Myer Chapel in Arlington, VA, on 21 Mar. Mrs. Elena C. Vlisides, George's mother, was present. George also was survived by a brother and a sister.
And so passed another air warrior. Time too short; talents too little used; stopped in midflight. George was the epitome of the Academy motto. West Point was one of his icons, the ancient Greeks the other. He enjoyed telling of the glories of the Greeks and he thrived on tales of their courage. George had courage. Walpole, though not a Greek, had George in mind when he wrote, “Tisn’t life that matters. 'Tis the courage one brings to it."
- JBL, C-1 classmate