560th Bomber Squadron / 388th Bombardment Group
Lt George A. Nicolau was born in Detroit, Michigan on 14 February 1925. He spent the first five years of his life there and then, the family moved to a town of about 75.000 people called Jackson Michigan, and that’s where he grew up and went to public school, all the way through high school. His father and mother were from north-western Greece and immigrated to the USA around 1906 – 1909. His parents ran a restaurant business. When his father first came to the States, he came alone and had various pickup jobs. He did some railroad work, worked in a mill, finally opened a shoeshine stand in Massachusetts, and then eventually went into the restaurant business. In the course of time two or three years, he was in the States making money, then he had to go back and get his wife to come to the USA. Like most immigrants, many of them come alone and made enough money to pay the wife’s ship fare at that point. George Nicolau had two older brothers and an older sister and they all grow up in the family’s restaurant in Jackson. George was one of four children that survived! His mother had eight children but unfortunately, the four died at various times at young ages of the usual kind of illnesses and diseases that immigrants were prone to. Regarding his combat tour in the USAAF, Mr. George A. Nicolau recounts:
“In 1943, I was 18 years old, World War II was going on, and I wanted to volunteer for the armed services, the Army Air Corps, which is what it was called then, and I did that immediately after I was 18. Two other friends of mine had done the same thing and the three of us convinced the principal of the high school that we could graduate in absentia in April ’43 I left Jackson to go into the Army Air Corps. That was the beginning of my military career. I trained mostly in Texas. After what they call classification, the Air Corps decided I should be a navigator rather than a pilot. I think part of that was because I did happen to break a tail wheel on a Piper Cub in a landing. The depth perception was not quite as good as they wanted, so I became a navigator and came back to Texas and trained at a place called Ellington Field, which was outside of Houston, and then went to navigation school in San Marcus, Texas (Class 44-05). I graduated as navigator and officer in April of 1944. About two or three months later the crew assembled in a place called Pyote, Texas where I met my pilot and the other eight members of the crew. We flew out of that base in Western Texas to various places in the United States, getting trained and getting used to each other. And then in early June ’44, we all hopped on to a ship and we went to England where we were assigned to a particular base in East Anglia. We flying B-17s, they’re called Flying Fortress which is a four-engine heavy bombers. As a navigator, my station was in the front of the aircraft. If you’ve seen a B-17 there’s sort of a Plexiglas nose which is where the bombardier sits on what we call the bomb run, and the navigator sits behind him but looking out a side window. He has a little desk there where you could work. So that was the usual configuration on a B-17. I have participated in only four combat missions because I was wounded in the fourth. I’ll tell you some of the highlights of those. Well, I think the second one was an unusual mission because at that point in time the invasion was going on and General George Patton and his tanks were breaking out of Normandy and B-17s were in effect going to be used as tactical bombers rather than strategic bombers at the time. Our aircraft usually flew at 25.000 feet in wings of 54, and that day we were just three aircraft apiece flying at 10.000 feet and therefore much more prone to anti-aircraft fire. Our job that day was to bomb an airfield northwest of Paris in a town called Evreau, but the lead aircraft mistakenly took us over Paris which we were told never to go to because the gunners were absolutely sensational there, and we went and got into a lot of anti-aircraft fire, a lot of flak, and the lead man took us back over that even though we’d lost 1.000 feet in a 180-degree turn and got shot at again. And then Cherbourg went over Le Havre and we got more holes in our airplane! By the time we landed, at a conservative count, we had about 200 holes in that plane, including a big chunk out of the wing root where it attaches to the body! Τhe our aircraft for this mission was the B-17G 42-97219, REUEL'S REVENGE. We were very unhappy because of what had occurred, so we decided to talk to the pilot of the lead plane and I had said to my captain, who was then a Lieutenant:
- We really ought to tell him that he made a terrible mistake.
So we went over to see him, and he was a Chinese-American, Captain Chin, and we said to him:
- You took us over to Paris!
And he said:
- Oh, no, no, that was Rouen, it’s west of the Paris.
As a 19-year-old I piped up and said:
- Captain, I’ve never been to Paris, but I know the Eiffel Tower when I see it!
So, that was the end of that story."
George Nicolau flew only four combat missions although he gave one of his legs, for all of us to be free. Proud of his Greek heritage frequently recalls his final mission: "I wasn’t shot down, I was shot up. I put my head up and then the flak burst and shattered my leg. If I had been hunched over, it would have shattered my head, but it threw me about four or five feet against the bulkhead and I thought, ‘I wonder what this is going to be like. As it turned out, the bombardier, a fellow named Robert Montgomery, saved my life. He put a tourniquet on and then shot me with morphine. I was severely wounded and the next day the leg was so shattered that they had to amputate it above the knee." (https://www.388thbga.org)
Loren Johnson's crew, in front of a B-17. The background buildings and the Flying Fortress rows suggest that it's probably in the US. Back row L to R: S/Sgt Angelo M. Mangione - Engineer-Gunner, S/Sgt Yukio Kishi - Radio Operator, Sgt Fred E Cawain – Waist Gunner, Sgt Henry A. Nichols – Waist Gunner, Sgt Anthony D. Yannolo – Tail Gunner. Front row L to R: Capt. Loren G. Johnson - Pilot, 2nd Lt Francis M Green - Co-pilot, 1st Lt George A. Nicolau - Navigator, Lt. Robert A. Montgomery – Bombardier. The last one saved the life of Nicolau, giving him the first aid when a flak fragment shattered his leg! He put a tourniquet on the wounded leg and shot him morphine for the pain. (http://www.388bg.info/)
Excellent close-up color photo, of the HOLY SMOKES Flying Fortress in which Nicolau flew his last mission. The plexiglass nose and the nose gun turret are clearly seen as well as its colorful nose art. The 388th Bombardment Group (Heavy) received two Distinguished Units Citations. One for withstanding heavy opposition to bombing the vital aircraft factory at Regensburg on Aug 1, 1943, and another for three outstanding missions: an attack against a tire and rubber factory in Hannover on Jul 26, 1943; the bombardment of a synthetic oil refinery in Brux on March 12, 1944, and a strike against a synthetic oil refinery at Ruhland on 21 June 1944, during a shuttle raid from England to Russia. (https://www.388thbga.org/ & https://www.8thafhs.org )
B-17G-10-DL 43-37787, HOLY SMOKES in the 570th Bomb Squadron, 388th Bomb Group, which PTR on 5 December 1944 when it made an emergency landing on the continent. All nine members of 2nd Lieutenant K. O. Burkheimer's crew returned and the Fortress was salvaged. On 29 September 1944 Burkheimer had ditched another B-17 in the Channel on the mission to Osnabriick when his crew was rescued. (USAF)
B-17G-70-BO 43-37787, HOLY SMOKES was the Flying Fortress in which George Nicolau (according to his remembrance) flew his third and final fourth mission of the war. Having a distinctive nose art it was one of the most famous 388th Bombardment Group bombers. According to B-17 Master Log by Dave Osbourne, the 43-37787, Delivered: Cheyenne 21/5/44; Kearney 5/6/44; Grenier 17/6/44; Assigned: 413BS/96BG Snetterton 19/6/44; Transferred: 560BS/388BG Knettishall 20/6/44; battle damage Berlin 5/12/44 Pilot: '; forced landing Knocke, Belgium. 9RTD; Salvaged. (Copyright Bertrand Brown)
"The fourth mission was my last! We flew with the B-17G “Holy Smokes” s/n 43-37523. I used to sit up front where the bombardier sits because I could get a better view of the terrain until we went into the target area. I was there in the way to Leipzig, and a single flak burst – we hadn’t seen any flak at all on the trip, and I had just written down on a map what the checkpoint was and wrote down the time, 10:31, and put my head up and then the flak burst shattered my leg. If I had been hunched over it would have shattered my head, but it threw me about four or five feet against the bulkhead and I thought, well, I wonder what this is going to be like. Well, as it turned out, the bombardier, a fellow named Robert Montgomery, he saved my life. He put a tourniquet on and then shot me with morphine. I asked him later since we had all skipped the first aid classes, how it was he knew that and he didn’t really know the answer to that question, but he just knew that it had to be done. I was severely wounded and the next day the leg was so shattered that they had to amputate it above the knee. By the way, our mission completed after my injury. The pilot asked if we could turn back with our bomb load and we were told no – and I understand that – so we went a couple more hours into eastern Germany, what was then near Leipzig, and dropped our bombs along with everybody else and then came back! I was oblivious, of course, at that point! I was lying there off and on, you know, awake sometimes, but couldn’t see anything except the top of the fuselage. So, after the return to base, I spent two months in what is called a field hospital, the American field hospital near the Air Force base, then came back to the States in October of 1944, and then spent about a year off and on at a rehab centre in Battle Creek, Michigan which was the site of the Kellogg Sanatorium. The Army had taken it over. I learned to walk again and learned to live with an artificial limb! In high school, I was a good student and I decide to do something with my life and I entered in the University of Michigan on the GI bill in 1948. Happily, I had a year’s credit from military service so I spent three years at the University of Michigan and graduated with a degree in political science and economics!”
After his ordeal during the war, Nicolau graduated with a degree in political science and economics from the University of Michigan before entering Columbia Law School in New York where he acquired his Juris-doctor degree. He never left the Big Apple. A former president of both the National Academy of Arbitrators and the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution, Nicolau started out as a labor lawyer, representing locals of the International Typographical Union, the Printing Pressmen, and the Atomic Energy Workers. He was one of several attorneys, who led the Actors Equity organization through its initial strike back in 1960, a work disruption that closed Broadway theatres for two weeks. Over time, Nicolau became a mediator before branching out to be an arbitrator back in 1969. As he battled employers over grievances in the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared before many arbitrators so he got to know first-hand how arbitrators worked their craft. His first case as an arbitrator dealt with an employee fired by the Four Continents Bookstore. In 2006, Nicolau was called to resolve the strike between New York City and 36,000 transit workers. He was the umpire who issued the merged seniority list that divided many of the 5,000 pilots of the former America West Airlines and the old US Airways.
Nicolau is best known as Major League Baseball’s main arbitrator for close to 10 years back in the 1980s and 1990s. He had a lot to do with handling the landmark owners’ collusion cases from 1986-87 which affected a number of major leaguers, including former Expos Andre Dawson, Dennis Martinez and Tim Raines.
Another view of the B-17G 43-37523, HOLY SMOKES of the 560th Bomb Sq, 388th BG at the end of the 20 June 1944 mission to Magdeburg. She was repaired to fly again, completing a total of 84 missions. From Left to Right: 2nd Lt. Scott C. Johnson, Clam Falls, WI - Co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Charles Maring, Jr, Grinnell, IA - Pilot, he was killed in a mid-air collision on 28 September, flying as an observer with another crew, 2Lt. John W. Hanlen, Aurora, Bombardier, 2nd Lt. Delmar A. Worms, Mascoutah, IL, Navigator, and SSGT William E. Genrich, Beatrice, NE - Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner. (National Archives 61411 A.C., Info by Gerald Asher)
L-17G-35-DL 42-107062, WORRY BIRD (formerly MISS BEA HAVEN) in the 562nd Bomb Squadron over Suffolk m 1944. This aircraft was scrapped at Kinsman, Arizona in November 1945. George Nicolau flew his first mission with it during Group Mission 181, bombing targets in France. According to B-17 Master Log by Dave Osbourne: Delivered: Denver 9/2/44; Rapid City 2/3/44; Dow Fd 3/4/44; Assigned: 398BG Nuthampstead 25/4/44; no-ops, Transferred: 562BS/388BG Knettishall 29/4/44 WORRY BIRD; Returned to the US: Bradley 8/6/45; 4168 BU Sth Plains 29/11/45; Scrapped: Kingman 29/11/45. LITTLE JOE JR aka MISS BEA HAVEN. (USAF)
GEORGE NIKOLAU COMBAT MISSIONS
|GROUP MISSION |
SERIAL & NOSEART
|1||11 - 08 -1944||181||B-17G-35-DL, #42-107062, 'Worry Bird / Miss Be A Haven'||Mulhouse, France|
|2||13 - 08 -1944||182||B-17G, #42-97219, 'Reuel’s Revenge'||Seine River, France|
|3||14 - 08 -1944||183||B-17G-70-BO, #43-37787, 'Holy Smokes'||Ludwigshafen, Germany|
|4||16 - 08 -1944||184||B-17G, #43-37523,||Zeitz, Germany|
The missions table above was created according to information from the excellent site of the 388th BG association, https://www.388thbga.org. In the interview Nicolau gave, he states that he flew HOLY SMOKES in his final mission. Although our team doesn't have any connection with him or his family we strongly believe that the mission table has the correct data as these were retrieved from the original 388th BG load lists.
1. National Academy of Arbitrators, History Committee interview of George Nicolau, NAA President, 1996 - Interviewed by Michel Picher September 17, 2006
2. 388th Bomber Group Archives from AFHRA (Air Force History Research Agency)
3. 560th Bomber Squadron Archives from AFHRA (Air Force History Research Agency)
4. B-17 Master Log by Dave Osborne
5. Arizona Commemorative Museum, George Nikolau interview
6. 388th Bomb Group Association Web page
7. 388th Bomb Group Association Facebook page
Special Thanks to AFHRA officer, Tammy Horton Civ. USAF AFHRA/RSR