Obituary: George Seftick / Risked life dislodging bombs from plane in WWII
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George Seftick, a decorated bombardier who in 1945 risked his life over the North Atlantic to jettison stuck bombs from his shot-up B-17, died Monday.
He was 88 and lived in Penn Hills, where he raised three children with his wife, Irene, while working his entire career as an electrical engineer and manager at General Electric Corp.
By April 1945, Mr. Seftick had flown 33 bombing missions over Germany aboard two different Eighth Air Force B-17s.
His 34th run -- over Kiel on April 4 -- earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The crew of "A Bit-o-Lace" dropped three of the plane's six 1,000-pound bombs over the northern port city, but the three on the left side of the plane would not release because the bottom one was stuck.
The plane, limping home with the tail shot apart, one engine out and another losing oil pressure, could not land with bombs.
From his position in the nose, Mr. Seftick tried but failed to release them mechanically and electrically. He had to do it manually from the bomb bay.
"With my skinny frame being held by the feet by the waist gunner and the radio operator, and no chute, I dangled out of the bomb bay," he later wrote for the Eighth Air Force Historical Society. "On reaching under the bottom bomb, I was able to reach the release mechanism and release the bottom bomb. I can recall the bombs falling into the North Sea and attempting to pull me along with them. Fortunately I had two strong guys holding me by my feet."
He said he didn't know how he managed that act of bravery, but in a 1998 newspaper story he said simply, "When you're a kid, you've got a lot of guts."
Mr. Seftick flew 35 missions in all, then came home and built a career and a family, like millions of other World War II veterans. But unlike so many others who avoid discussing the actual fighting, he often talked of the air war over Germany.
"He remembered the war like it was yesterday," said his son, Ronald, 60, of Columbia, S.C. "He talked about the combat a lot. He was very proud of serving the country."
Born George Szewczyk in Johnstown in 1924 -- he later changed his name -- Mr. Seftick had eight brothers and a sister. He lost his father, a mill worker, to smallpox when he was a young boy.
Valedictorian of his high school, Mr. Seftick enlisted when the war came, even though he wasn't quite old enough. Three of his brothers were serving -- in the Navy, Marines and Army infantry. Mr. Seftick chose the Army Air Forces and shipped off in 1944 for Rattlesden, England, home of the 447th Bomb Group.
He flew 18 missions aboard the "Barbara Jane" and in January 1945 joined the crew of "A Bit-o-Lace." Of that April 4 run over Kiel, he recalled, "We just got the hell shot out of us, and with the help of a good crew and pilot, we made it back to England."
He said when he returned to Rattlesden after that mission, "it didn't take any persuasion to take the cognac prior to debriefing."
He flew one more mission before the war ended. Back in the U.S., he and his brothers decided their tongue-twisting Polish name needed to be simplified.
"No one could pronounce it," said Ron Seftick. "They all wanted corporate jobs and thought Seftick would be easier."
But they all spelled it differently. Mr. Seftick has two surviving brothers -- Louis, of Canton, Ohio, who spells his last name Suchek, and Clarence, of Johnstown, who spells it Seftic.
Mr. Seftick didn't want to live in Johnstown anymore, so he went to work for General Electric in Pittsburgh. He married in 1947 and settled in Penn Hills.
He took advantage of the GI Bill and went to night school at Carnegie Institute of Technology, earning his degree in electrical engineering and working his way up to district manager.
After he retired, he went to work in the early 1990s as Pittsburgh sales representative for his son, who was then vice president of Zenith Controls, an electrical services company in Chicago.
In his spare time he enjoyed golf, traveling and working around the house.
For the past eight years, Mr. Seftick had battled Alzheimer's. He visited a B-17 at Allegheny County Airport in 2010, even serving as an unofficial tour guide, yet later could not remember what he'd done that day. He fought the disease as best he could, trying to keep his mind active.
"He constantly tried to educate himself," his son said.
Besides his son, wife and two brothers, Mr. Seftick is survived by his daughters, Kathleen Nardozzi of Murrysville and Cheryl Ann Pinkava of Chatham, N.J.
Mr. Seftick will be buried today with military honors at Plum Creek Cemetery.
First Published November 2, 2012 12:00 am