George Kolsun always wanted to fly.  And during WW II he did, but not in the way he expected.  “I wanted to be a pilot, but the Army put me into an airborne infantry unit.”  Gliders!  One of the most dangerous flying contraptions of the war.  Worse, he was only a passenger.  As part of his training in North Carolina he participated in the Knollwood Maneuvers, a notorious war exercise that set out to demonstrate current effectiveness of airborne forces.  It was a massive failure, but the Army proceeded with the program anyway.

When George finally got the chance to leave the airborne infantry and train as a pilot, his program was cancelled by General Hap Arnold himself.  Sorry George, he was told, but the war effort needs you at the front.  “We know you will appreciate an early opportunity to engage with the enemy,” his new orders stated.

So, George found himself as a radioman chasing across Europe as part of the 20th Armored Division, and then, after Europe was won, he was sent to the Pacific.  Years later after the war, George met General Paul Tibbets and thanked him for dropping the bomb.  “You saved my life.”

Our work often takes us to retirement communities across the Greater Pittsburgh area where we meet with veteran residents and record their stories.  Sometimes while on-site, veterans from nearby communities stop by our location and sit for an interview, as did George Kolsun during the bitter cold of February 2013.

George and his wife Eleanor of West Mifflin, PA sat with us in Providence Point’s grand ball room, where George immediately noticed the grand piano that served as part of our set.   Playing piano is one of his many joys, Eleanor told us as George gently caressed the ivory keys and toyed with a few melodies until we had our cameras set up.

“I brought a few things to look at,” George said, pointing to a large suitcase.  “I’ve got some souvenirs from the war and some photographs.”

Nazi stuff!  A pair of hobnailed storm trooper boots.  Leather pilot’s helmet.  Swastika emblazoned dagger.  Fur cap from the Russian Front.  Indeed, photographs galore.

This was going to be a very interesting interview, we thought–as it certainly was.

George J. Kolsun (May 3, 1924 – October 7, 2013)

George, age 89, of West Mifflin died peacefully after a brief illness, on Monday, October 7, 2013.  Devoted husband of  62 years to M. Eleanor (Hastings) Kolsun; loving father of Dr. G. David (Alisa K.) Kolsun of Lancaster, PA, Melanie Diane (David M.) Labrozzi of Newtown, CT and Debra Lynn (Dennis) Hottel of Bethel Park; proud grandfather of Nicole, Jason, Kristen, Zak, Creighton, and Melanie; brother of Edward J. Kolsun of Chestertown, MD.

Preceded in death by his parents George and Ella (Nemitz) Kolsun and sister Eleanor Faulhaber of Palm Coast, FL. He will be forever in Heaven and always in our hearts. George was born and raised in Philadelphia before moving to Pittsburgh in 1955. He served his country in WWII in both the 11th Airborne and the 20th Armored Divisions. A mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Maryland, he worked for the Sun Oil Company prior to moving to Pittsburgh where he spent the remainder of his professional career at the Bettis Atomic Power Lab in West Mifflin. He was awarded numerous patents related to Nuclear Engineering.

Dedicated to family and a love of the outdoors, George spent his free time skiing, running, ice skating, fishing, sailing and playing tennis, all with his family.  They explored the U.S. and Canada, camping from the Gaspe Peninsula to Key West and from coast to coast. Never really retiring, his post Bettis career was very active and  focused on stock trading, gardening, golf, traveling and sailplane (Glider) lessons. He was an active member of the St. Elizabeth Seniors and the 11thAirborne Association as well as the VFW, American Legion and South Park “60″ golf club. He especially enjoyed writing music and regularly playing his keyboard for church, Airborne and VA Hospital functions.

Among fellow veterans, George is buried at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.  In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations may be made to The Veterans Breakfast Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing veterans’ stories: The Veterans Breakfast Club, 200 Magnolia Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15228