• PHOTO COURTESY OF DON SWAN George Mullins at his 90th birthday celebration in Garberville on April 25.

  • PHOTO COURTESYOF MULLINS COLLECTION Sergeant George Mullins, later promoted to Staff Sergeant, in 1945.

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Garberville >> By all measures it was an impressive celebration of life at the Veterans Hall in Garberville on Saturday, April 25, 2015. George Mullins was alive and well — looking good, standing tall and surrounded by about 200 of his family and closest friends from across the country for his 90th birthday celebration. There was good food, lots of great memories and laughter. But some friends were missing; friends bonded by brotherhood in battle and not just any battle.

George Mullins, at 19 was one of the men who advanced on Utah Beach on D-day. Initially they met surprisingly little resistance, but then came the Dove River crossing in Normandy where they were met with a withering fusillade of fire. “My machine gun section of 13 took terrible losses. When morning came, I was the only survivor who could continue. The others were killed or seriously injured,” recalled Mullins, a member of the renowned 101st Airborne Division. Later, in Holland, he would not be so fortunate.

Born in the small coal-mining town of Jenkins, Kentucky, Mullins thought he might miss the war, but was inducted in the U.S. Army October 21, 1943. So many were drafted or volunteered; they closed the high school he attended.

After training in Georgia he sailed to Europe on a Liberty ship. He landed in Ireland where there was more training. Then he was assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry where the 135-pound teenager prepared for D-Day and quickly realized: “This was the real thing, this is real war! Here I viewed the ravages of war, the smell of death, the decaying human bodies,” Mullins recounted with a blank stare.

After he was dispatched to Holland he made his first combat glider flight; at altitude he heard steel hitting steel as flack formed around his venerable craft. Unbelievably no one was hit. But that was just one lucky flight.

“In our 72 days in Holland, we dealt with mines, booby traps, snipers, constant enemy patrols, artillery and our foxholes filling with water, filth and mud,” Mullins recalled. In one of those foxholes searing shrapnel from German artillery pierced a small area of his shoulder where it remains today.

But Mullins continued with his men only to be chewed out a couple of days later when they happened upon an aid station where he had his wounds checked. He was told that anyone wounded needed to seek medical attention immediately. He assumed the complaining captain had never been under fire like his platoon. But he was cleared and returned to duty.

From Holland, he was sent to the extreme cold of Bastogne (think Battle of the Bulge). If the Luftwaffe constantly raining down bombs on his location was not enough they soon found themselves surrounded by German infantry troops. “Suddenly, I heard a loud explosion and when I gained my composure, I found two of my fellow soldiers laying on top of me. Before I could pull myself free, blood from their wounds was running down my face. As far as I could tell, I was saved by their deaths,” sighed Mullins.

Although not physically wounded, he was out of action for a few days, the only time he was away from his platoon during the war. “After Patton’s tanks came to our rescue, we went on the offensive and were able to fight our way out of the encirclement,’’ Mullins recalled.

In just over two year’s Mullins was a staff sergeant in the elite 101st Airborne Division. Promoted far ahead of his peers, he said modestly, because he was willing to take on responsibility. He was rewarded for his combat leadership receiving the Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman Badge. He was also awarded the Purple Heart and other medals. And his unit received the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation.

Although wounded in Holland, a writer asked him why his unit had such a high survival rate there. “Because we were diggers.”

“What?” said the puzzled man.

“When we stopped, even for a short period, we shoveled the earth and dug foxholes for our protection,” said Mullins who had commandeered a higher quality German shovel for the task.

He returned to Kentucky after serving two years, two months and 11 days, most of which was in combat. His dad had secured a “good job” for him in the coal mines. Instead he finished high school in Virginia and headed west. He worked a few years in Washington state as a lumberjack before settling in California where he also worked in logging.

As for making it to 90 and all those years of hard work? “You need to get with it while you’re still vertical, I can’t stop now. I have too many responsibilities,” said Mullins a cogent communicator, who gets around well and looks to be in good shape; a young 90 for sure.

And for the inventible question, how are you so healthy at 90? “I’ve had a good wife to keep me happy. I stay active and keep my mind sharp by thinking of things to invent.”

He remains a member of the VFW Honor Guard and is care provider for Lucila, his of wife of 37 years.

To the people of Garberville where Mullins has lived for 55 years: “You gave me a chance to get out of a ditch [when I came here]. I couldn’t have bought you a hamburger or one for myself really, but today I can buy you a steak. It’s a little paradise on earth.” And it was here that he became a successful businessman as owner of G & M Construction.

If the past 90 years are any indication, George Mullins: husband, care provider, father, great grandfather, great-great grandfather, WWII hero and good citizen of the country and community, he may remain vertical for a long while and someone might just buy him a steak.

“I can’t say that I enjoyed the war, but it was the place to be,” said Mullins. “It took me a long time to get my brain straightened out but our generation is, of course, different. I believe we were so thankful for having survived we accepted the horrors of war differently than later generations. But you never forget. It’s a hard drive that can’t be erased.”

Don Swan serves on the VFW Honor Guard with Mullins and is a Vietnam veteran who lives in Shelter Cove with his wife and four dogs. He was interim editor of the Redwood Record in 1994.

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