WWII Hero From Ocean City Earns France's Medal of Honor
On Veterans Day today, B-24 gunner George Fulton will be honored for his service.
When George Fulton was drafted into the Army, he says he thought flying in an airplane and shooting a gun "would be fun."
"I didn't know you would get the **** shot out of you," Fulton said Thursday at Wesley Manor, recalling his decorated and dangerous service during World War II.
That service, from April 1943 to December 1944, earned him an impressive collection of commendations, and will be recognized again today, Veterans Day, in a 1:30 p.m. ceremony at the Lycee Francais de New York when French President Nicolas Sarkozy awards him the insignia of the Legion of Honor in gratitude for Fulton's contribution to the liberation of France during World War II.
Between May and August 1944, Fulton flew nine missions over France: one over Nice, two over Marseilles, five over Toulon and one over the beachhead in southern France.
Fulton will attend the ceremony in New York with Tom Tumelty, a friend who helped him apply for France's Medal of Honor. Tumelty, who met Fulton three years ago at Arlene's on Asbury restaurant, said the more he learned about Fulton's storied war career, the more evident it became that Fulton was indeed a hero.
"George, being the hero he is, didn't report he was injured or he would have received the Purple Heart," Tumelty says. "The reason his feet and knees are so messed up is because he has shrapnel in them."
And the way he got shrapnel in his knees and feet was by hanging his lower body out the door of the B-24 Liberator aircraft in which he was an aerial gunner. "When things got bad, I was ready to jump," Fulton says, explaining why he stationed himself in the plane's door.
The 450th Bomber Group, of which Fulton was a member, flew 103 missions. The details of each are documented on two pages of Fulton's application for the French honor, and 32 are marked with asterisks.
"The ones with the stars are the ones where we caught hell," Fulton says.
He disputes that he is a hero. On his application for the French medal, which has only recently been awarded to aviators following a change in French law that reserved the honor for those who fought on the ground, Fulton wrote in part: "I do not consider myself a hero. Those comrades who were shot down, wounded or died were the real heroes."
Fulton distinguished himself many times over in his military career. He earned the Presidential Unit Citation, which is awarded to units accomplishing their missions under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions; the Air Medal, which is awarded for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, which is awarded for service performed between December 1941 and March 1946 in the geographical theater areas of Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East; a Good Conduct Medal; and eight Bronze Stars. The Bronze Star, the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces, is awarded for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service.
"Normally," Fulton says of the Bronze Medal, "a guy gets one."
"Getting a Bronze Star means you really got shot at," Tumelty says.
Fulton also served for 17 years as post commander of Ocean City's VFW.
After his honorable discharge from the United States Army Air Force, Fulton returned to the states and resumed a career as a blacksmith, a trade he learned from his father in Roxborough, PA. He and his wife, Zora, to whom he was married for 64 years before her death in 2009, traveled frequently as he shoed race horses in Canada, Mexico and Florida.
While he was in the service, Fulton mailed Zora paper money to indicate he was safe. "When she got lira, she knew I flew another mission," he says. "Every other thing was classified during the war."
An Ocean City resident from the 1940s, Fulton moved into Wesley Manor eariler this year.
It is at Wesley Manor that Fulton met Dan Mullin, 92, a World War II pilot who belonged to the 98th Bomber Group. Mullin flew B-24 Liberator four-engine bombers in the Mediterranean between April and September 1943. Also a decorated war hero who was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and a Distinguished Flying Cross, Mullin says of the time, "It was a nice experience, but I wouldn't want to do it again."
Mullin was married for 63 years and moved to Ocean City from Drexel Hill, PA, in 1983. He and Fulton share meals but not many war stories at Wesley Manor. He realizes the era of the WW II vet is coming to a close: "To have fought in World War II, you have to be at least 83 years old," he says.
Though their service ended decades ago, both men have clear memories of their time overseas. In thinking back to the beginning of his military career, Fulton recalled why he choose aerial combat. "I liked the pair of silver wings," he says. "When they hung those wings on you, you were a different person."