EBENSBURG - Volunteering is nothing new for a retired Mineral Point man, but when he recently started volunteering at the Ebensburg Senior Center, this was different.
Walter George said illness to his mother motivated him to serve the center.
"When my mom was confined to her home due to illness, it meant so much to her to get meals sent in from the senior center," he said. "So this is my way of paying back for that service."
Walter George, a
veteran of the Vietnam War and now a retired
volunteers at the Ebensburg Senior Center. He also has restored many old cars that have been shown all over the country.
"They are like family," Tammy Monito, the manager at the Ebensburg Senior Center, said of the volunteers, like George, "and we appreciate all of them so much."
Along with his father and brothers, George also served as a volunteer for 28 years with the Portage Fire Department.
George, 68, grew up in Portage, graduated from Portage Area High School and received a bachelor's degree in criminology from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
He is a member of the VFW Post 7605 of Twin Rocks, where he participates in the honor guard for military funeral services.
"Walt's very community-minded and an asset to the Post," Brenda Crassley, manager of the VFW Post 7605, said.
George also loves old cars from the 1930s and '40s, having restored many that he has sold and have been shown all over the country.
In 1965, George was, he said, "like just about every young man in Portage" to be drafted into the United States Army. He was stationed at Fort Jackson, S.C. and then at Fort Eustis, Va. for Infantry training.
He was sent to Vietnam, where he trained as an aircraft electrician. He finally ended up in the 1st Cavalry Division Infantry, serving there for 13 months.
"It was a tough time," he said. "One day we were out on ground patrol, about 25 of us in our unit, when one of the soldiers next to me tramped on a grenade, and all but two of us were blown up and killed."
Wounded by the flying shrapnel, George was sent to Hawaii to recover from his wounds. He said he was given a choice of going home or finishing out his tour, and he decided to go back into the field for the last two months.
He said he has seen the other survivor of his group from that fateful day only twice.
The man's name was Tom Vagas from southern California. George said the two "talk every month, but we never speak about what happened to all our comrades on that day in 1967."
George and Vagas each received the purple heart and many other medals.
"It is something that you really want to put out of your mind," George said, "when you lose over 20 of your friends in one swipe."
George, sharing his tragic and courageous story for the first time, said he always wanted to be an organ donor, but now that he is 100 percent disabled with Agent Orange, he is unable to do that. He did say that the Veterans Administration has been wonderful, taking care of his medical and counseling needs.
After returning from Vietnam, he worked in construction in the Ebensburg area for around 20 years and just recently retired after selling his West Side Pizza business in the Ebensburg Mall.
"I knew I wanted to do some kind of volunteering so here I am with my 'second family' every day, helping my senior friends," he said.
Barbara Cordoro, an assistant at the Ebensburg Senior Center, said volunteers are so important and "each one, including Walt, is priceless."