George "Boots" Abood of Bridgeville, a World War II prisoner of war who, his family said, survived a 600-mile, German death march and helped his first cousin do the same, died of complications from a stroke Friday at the age of 93.
Shot down over Normandy during his seventh mission, he was by chance reunited with his cousin, George Shady, at a camp called Stalag Luft IV, said his granddaughter Jackie Erickson of Bethel Park. They spotted one another during exercise periods, but Mr. Abood, who had witnessed a prisoner of Jewish descent beaten "to a pulp," and his cousin kept their relationship a secret from the Germans out of fear of reprisal.
Similarly, Mr. Abood also helped protect his pilot-captain during their incarceration by not saluting him, Mrs. Erickson said. "They [the Germans] were always looking for who was the leadership," she said.
Protecting his cousin took physical strength as well as courage during the death march through an extremely cold winter. Mr. Shady became very ill during the walk across Germany, Mrs. Erickson said, but Mr. Abood was determined he "wasn't going to leave him behind. He carried [his cousin] around 300 miles."
"On the march it was not uncommon to wake up with a gun to his head," Mrs. Erickson said. "He'd be putting on his shoes and the German would say 'Where you're going you're not going to need shoes.' He also was exposed to firing squads at least three times."
During his imprisonment and on the march, Mr. Abood suffered frostbite that left his hands and feet permanently tingling, his granddaughter said. He also had hearing and teeth problems. Later, his heart was affected and he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.
"He had deep faith," Mrs. Erickson said. "He would say it was a blessing from God that he made it through and others did not."
The military honored him with the Air Medal Award and a Purple Heart, she said.
When Mr. Abood came home from the war, he returned to work for the Universal-Cyclops Steel Corp. in Bridgeville, where he had started as a roller before World War II. He eventually found a way to continue to help others by serving as president of United Steelworkers Local 178 for 13 years. When he retired, he was an inspector for Universal-Cyclops.
"He was a true hero to all of us," Mrs. Erickson said. "He made us love our country, and he just made us acknowledge when he worked in the union and the steel mill that he was always aware of the importance of a good work force and work force protections."
Mr. Abood was also a member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, an avid golfer and an award-winning swing dancer in his early years.
He was married for 60 years to his wife, Lucy, an accomplished softball pitcher who played for local travel teams. She died in 2006.
Besides Mrs. Erickson, he is survived by another granddaughter, Georganne Henson; a daughter Georganne Wagner of Bethel Park; four sisters, Katherine Frye of Bridgeville, Marian Albert of Brookline, Ann Brodmerkel of Albuquerque, N.M., and Gloria Maiolie of Scott; a brother, Norman Sam of Tucson, Ariz.; and a great-grandson.
Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. today in the Warchol Funeral Home, Bridgeville, where a Trisagion prayer service also will be held at 7:30 p.m.
A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday in St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, Bridgeville. Burial will follow at St. George's Cemetery, Bridgeville.
The family suggests contributions be sent to the church's building fund or cemetery fund, 610 Dewey Ave., Bridgeville, PA 15017.
Pohla Smith: email@example.com or 412-263-1228.