Like all war veterans, George A. Rapson insists he is not a hero for his actions as a fighter pilot in the Pacific theatre during World War II. “I was just one of thousands and thousands who did their job during the war,” Rapson said as he recounted his experiences.
Rapson, age 96, is the father of George D. Rapson, Mesquite city councilman.
Thanks to Dr. Jerry Guanciale, a surgeon at Mesa View Regional Hospital, all of Rapson’s original WWII memorabilia is destined for collection and display at the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, located near Dayton, OH.
“After talking to George at the hospital, he told me he had all of his records from his service in WWII,” Guanciale said. “He told me he had been a fighter pilot. How many of those do we still have with us? After looking at his meticulously kept records, I decided someone had to see all of it. I had never seen anything like it except at the museum in Dayton.”
Guanciale contacted the Air Force Museum and discussed Rapson’s memorabilia with one of its curators. “They wrote to me and said they wanted his stuff for our museum,” Guanciale said.
“I’m amazed,” Rapson said about the museum wanting his items. “I don’t know why they want my things. There were millions of other people who fought in the war. My life was no different than thousands of other Air Force people.”
Rapson initially flew P-39s and then moved to flying P-38s while he was stationed in the Pacific theatre, primarily the Philippines. “Going from the P-39 to the P-38 was like going from a Model-T car to a Cadillac,” he said. Rapson amassed just over 878 flying hours in the cockpit.
His service records show that he was on enlisted status from 25 May 1942 to 31 September 1943. No, the September date is not an error in this article. It’s the official date on his military records.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant on 1 October 1943 rising to the rank of Captain before his discharge on 27 October 1945.
His flight logs show that he was one of 21 other fighter aircraft who made an attack on the Luzon island in the Philippines killing 4,000 Japanese soldiers with bombs and ammunitions. “I remember being told that our bombs were effective but I don’t remember much else about that mission.”
A notation in his diary says “March 3, 1944: B-25 cover over Indo China coast but no rendezvous, never saw them but did spot a Sally and shot it down. Passed the B25’s on the back-8:10.” The name Sally was given by American pilots to a type of Japanese plane.
“I remember one time carrying a 500-pound bomb and bombing Baguio [Philippines],” Rapson recalled. “It was kind of a thrill. When the bomb left the aircraft, I could actually see the damn thing. Then I had to pull up. That was a big damn bomb.”
Rapson said “It was nothing personal” about killing the enemy. “It was part of my job. I really didn’t feel anything about.”
“December 14, 1944: Big dog fight over Negros-Tonys and Zeros-3 shot down. M.K. Moore and myself both hit a zero but M.K. got credit when we cut cards because we didn’t want 1/2 credits. Two of our guys collided mid-air but both were rescued later on. Landed on Leyte to refuel then returned to Moratai-8:10,” read another entry in Rapson’s diary.
Rapson remembered losing his roommate in the war zone. “He went out on a mission in Celebese. He never came back. He was a really nice guy. I hated to lose him. But it was just part of the war. You just go on. You figure yourself lucky. The next day I was back in the air.”
He was just 19 years old when he began his wartime missions. Rapson said, “In those days, we were so young and stupid we didn’t even realize how important life was. We would just shoot down the enemy and go on with the next flight. We had a dedication to achieve our mission and win a war; beat the Japanese.”
In July 1945, Rapson departed Manila, Philippines, aboard the U.S.S. William S. Weigel on his way back to the United States.
Diary entry, “August 1945: While still at sea the A-bombs were dropped and the Japanese surrendered. We disembarked in Los Angeles and I took a train to St. Louis, MO, Jefferson Barracks, for separation procedures.”
Rapson said of that time, “We were aboard ship coming home. We heard by word of mouth about the bombs in Japan. Actually, it wasn’t significant to our thoughts. We didn’t even know what an A-bomb was. We thought maybe it was a 1,000-pound bomb instead of a 500-pound bomb. We didn’t realize the significance of the atomic bomb. There was nothing to cheer about.”
Shortly after the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Japanese surrendered, and World War II was officially over.
“It was a relief,” he said about the war’s end. “I didn’t have to go back and shoot up the place. That was a long time ago. Seventy-some years ago. Hard to believe. When I think about it, I kind of enjoyed the war in a way. I enjoyed flying and got a big buzz out of it. The P-38 was a beautiful airplane. I enjoyed every damn day of my military service.”
Dr. Guanciale reflected on his part of helping capture the history of the greatest generation’s part in keeping the nation free. “I’ve had several patients who were part of the military. There are a lot of veterans in Mesquite who contributed so much. The things they have done are just unbelievable. I just love hearing about their experiences.”
In all modesty, Rapson said, “I was just one of thousands of guys. I really didn’t do a hell of a lot of anything.”
Somehow, we in Mesquite and our nation know better.