George S. Mixell knew that he was born on June 13, 1921 but not much else.
He explained such to the National Museum of the Pacific War on December 21, 2010, “They say that I was born in Enola. Pennsylvania but I can’t verify that in any way. I have no records. I can’t verify my parents. I guess they were a family of poor people. I was raised by Margaret Beck under foster care in Harrisburg on McLay Street.” Ms. Beck raised George until he was eight years old and had to enter a sanitarium in New Jersey for tuberculosis in his left lung. He was cured after a year’s treatment and was sent to live on a farm in Yorktown, Pennsylvania. He stayed on the farm for eight years at which time he joined the Army. “I quit high school. I didn't graduate from that high school. I had to go four years after regular school but I went three and then quit and joined the Army. I had a year to go. I have since graduated because they gave me that honor. When I quit high school to serve in the Army they put a letter in the newspaper that veterans that quit between the years of 1940 and 1945 could get their diploma at their regular high school. So I became a drop in rather than being a drop out.”
George enlisted on November 13, 1940 a decision he said that cost him. “I sort of regretted picking that time because I missed Thanksgiving and I missed Christmas; two holidays.” George was only in the military for “maybe three weeks” before being shipped to Panama with the Fifth Division for training. “I thought it [the voyage to Panama] was pretty good but they treated you almost like a prisoner. It was a civilian ship, a luxury liner. We weren't allowed above the bottom deck. They had MPs onboard to see that you didn't come up and mingle with the civilians. I said that was typical government. We went through to San Juan, Puerto Rico. That's where we stopped first. We weren't allowed off the ship or up on deck. They treated you like a dog.”
Training was difficult and extreme. “We had gas training. They put you in a trench in a tent and they would open up a gas can and you had to load the deal with that and get out of that tent within so many minutes. We had our gas mask. We went on ten-mile marches; ten miles out and ten miles back wearing that gas mask in the heat. It was roughly 114 in the shade. You can imagine how hot it was out in the open sun. Another thing we did to keep cool is we wore winter clothing and each soldier got soaked down, soaking wet with a hose and that's how you marched with these soaking wet clothes on. That was supposed to keep you cool.”
An example of the jungles Mixell served in.
Marines advancing in Cape Gloucester, New Brittian, 1944
Following this, George’s group headed into the jungle for survival training and to earn the title of “Bushmasters of Panama” as bestowed upon them by President Roosevelt. “We learned to kill all kinds of animals and varmints that lived under stones and rotten trees. You learned to eat them in case your rations ran out. We had to put up with mosquitoes, snakes, and scorpions. We had enemies all around us when we were out training. It would rain down there for six months at a time and be dry for six months. The dry months were worse than the rain. The rain kept you cool. You had to learn to sleep out in that in foxholes. Sometimes you would be laying in a foxhole half full of water; fall asleep that way. Those scorpions were so bad that when you picked up your shoes; when you took your shoes off at night they would crawl into your shoes and you had to pound them on the ground before you stuck your foot in there. Then you had your different snakes there. The big boa constrictor; you had to watch out for them because they could come into your camp at night and if they were hungry they could wrap around one of you and kill you and swallow you whole.”
An example of the jungle Mixell is talking about.
Marines advancing in the jungles of Cape Gloucester, 1944
George said these snakes were enormous and had no fear of humans at all. “We had some 25 feet. One time a soldier was out and he took his rifle and pounded one on the head. He thought he had killed it and he wasn't far from camp so he dragged him back into camp. We all got pictures taken with him, holding him with him on our shoulders and around our neck. We had one man [a fellow soldier] wrapped one Sunday afternoon. We were in our barracks and he went up behind the barracks into the jungle and one dropped out of a tree onto him and was wrapping him. He didn't have his bolo knife with him to protect himself. We heard him yelling so we went running up the trail and got there in time to kill the snake before it crushed any of his bones. It could crush your bones so they could swallow you.”
Marines hold python found in fox hole. PFC Earnest Gosbee and Corproal James Terrell. 1944
After a year of extensive training, George was assigned to Headquarters Company, Army S-2, Army Intelligence and sent to Australia. “We went with 50 ships loaded to the gills. There was hardly standing room on the decks. They had them loaded out with tanks, and trucks, and jeeps and everything. Every ship was loaded with soldiers; we had engineers, and medics, all kinds of attached units. We had a nurse corps. I don't' know how many thousands of people were on there. It was close to 10,000 people on these ships. We had air cover during the day and at night we were on our own. I did discover a Jap submarine one night. I stayed out on the deck all the time and I was standing there watching a flying fish skimming across the water and all of a sudden I saw this periscope sticking up out of the water about 50 feet from our ship. I called the guard and military police were on all the boats. I called one and said, ‘Look out there.’ He said, ‘That's a Japanese periscope or one of ours. I don't know which but I am going to notify the Captain right away.’ All the ships turned their engines off at the same time and coasted. The destroyers came in and dropped their depth charges. They cut their motors off so they could hear everything. It caught them off guard. They just coasted along. They dropped their depth charges and got that Jap sub. Somebody told me that since I alerted them I saved thousands of lives and I should have gotten a promotion and a medal for that. I said, ‘Probably the guy that I talked to got that.’ He went to the Captain and told him. I did get a medal. I got a Bronze Star in combat for discovering seven snipers. I should have gotten Sergeant's stripes for that but they never gave them to me. The government has beaten me out of a lot of benefits because I wasn't mouthy enough I guess.”
George made it to Australia then shipped to Port Moresby, New Guinea to put his Bushmaster training to use. “They sent us out over the mountains to intercept the Japs that were coming in. We drove them back out of there. They evacuated the area because they didn't have a big enough number. Then we came back from there and we went up to Finschhafen. We went to Noemfoor, Sarmi, and Wakde. I was in on Noemfoor. I went in the hospital for a while when I came back and we were fighting at Sarmi and Wakde. When that battle was over that is when my discharge came up. I had enough points.”
During his service in New Guinea, George not only encountered enemy forces but faced tarantulas “as big as your fist,” contracted malaria, jungle rot on his left foot, and was bit by a snake. He also he earned, “about 12 or 14 [medals].” George returned stateside after the war and took up a career working in a hardware store in Pennsylvania. He died at age of 97 on March 4, 2019.
This piece researched at the National Museum of the Pacific War’s Nimitz Education and Resource Center.
Contributor: Gayne C. Young
Gayne C. Young is a graduate of St. Edward’s University, the former Editor-in-Chief of North American Hunter and North American Fisherman - both part of CBS Sports -and a columnist for and feature contributor to Outdoor Life and Sporting Classics magazines. His work has appeared in magazines such as Petersen’s Hunting, Texas Sporting Journal, Sports Afield, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Under Wild Skies, Hunter’s Horn, Spearfishing, and many others.