From one service member to another
As a nose gunner on a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber, George Bekech flew 49 combat missions over North Africa and Italy in World War II. Now 94, his family said the Trumbull resident was happy to have someone fight for him.
“His hearing was badly damaged in the war, and over the years he gradually went deaf,” said his daughter, Irene Harrigan. “He had to retire at age 59 because of his hearing loss, and it was hard for him to get services because hearing loss isn’t like losing a limb, and many of the agencies didn’t consider him to have a disability.”
Worse, the Trumbull resident was recently widowed when his wife of 70 years died, and relatives worried that George would become isolated in his Arden Road home.
But with a little help from a fellow veteran, Bekech is reconnecting socially and even putting one of his old flying skills back to use.
Harrigan said all it took was a little communication with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, himself a veteran and the father of two other vets, to get pointed in the right direction, and Bekech now gets regular well-being visits from a social worker, and carries out long-distance telephone calls and ham radio conversations using specialized equipment that creates written transcripts that he can read on a laptop computer.
Blumenthal too had remained a long-distance acquaintance of Bekech’s until Friday, when the senator visited Trumbull to present him with an American Flag as a token of thanks for his service. During the visit Blumenthal met Bekech, his son Michael, and Harrigan, and spent some time looking at Bekech’s war memorabilia, including a photo of him and his B-24 crew with their plane.
“You’ve still got the same eyes,” Blumenthal said.
Bekech served in the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group, which operated from bases in North Africa beginning in 1942. The group earned three Distinguished Unit Citations and 15 Campaign Awards. The crews were credited with destroying 220 aircraft in aerial combat at a cost of 1,479 men and 169 planes.
The group flew 451 missions, including participating in Operation Tidal Wave against the heavily-defended Ploesti oil refinery complex in Romania on August 1, 1943. In that raid, which had a negligible effect on Axis fuel production, 162 Liberators attacked the facility. German defenses shot down 53 of the bombers and damaged 55 more, including one plane that limped back to its base with 365 bullet holes. Of the 1,620 men that flew the mission, 660 were reported killed or missing, and hundreds more returned with wounds. Five bomber crews earned the Medal of Honor in the raid. It was the second worst single-mission loss of the war for the U.S. Army Air Force.