George William Lee Second Lieutenant, United States Army

George W. Lee

  • Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army
  • Service # 1030899
  • 112nd Cavalry Regiment
  • Entered the Service from: Idaho
  • Died: 15-Dec-43
  • Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
  • Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
  • Manila, Philippines
  • Awards: Bronze Star, Purple Heart


George William Lee 1914-1943
Courtesy of Stewart Portela:

“I always had the most fun with Uncle George.  He made all the grandkids feel special and would play and joke with them. He truly loved farming and horses. They were his passions.”

-Ann Stewart

One of the most recurring comments that I hear from veterans is “I am no hero, the heroes never came home.” In the United States alone, during WWII, there were over 470,000 heroes that never came home. The numbers are staggering. Every community in our country was affected by a war death; so many families disrupted forever, with emotional scars that will never fully heal. War, with all of its events, still comes down to its most basic form, which is death.

Here is a story of potential lost, a husband, a son, a peaceful farmer, a hero that never returned.

December 1943, the 112th Cavalry Regiment, attached to the 32nd Infantry Division, was involved in diversionary attacks up and down the northern coast of New Britain. The goal of the regiment was to disrupt the Japanese defense in the area, spread them out and confuse the enemy into guessing where and when the U.S. was actually going to invade. The plan was simple enough, land a company or two on a secure beach, push inland until contact is made, then withdraw quickly.

The 1st battalion, 112th Regiment made two landings upon the Arawe Peninsula of New Britain’s southwest coast on December 14. Both of these landings were unopposed and the missions completed successfully. On December 15 one more landing was to occur. This time it would be near the boat harbor of Arawe. This time it was no diversion. The American units were there to stay. The navy and air force pounded the jungle-covered, volcano-studded island with 356 tons of explosives to soften up the landing area. The 2nd Battalion, along with elements of the 158th Infantry Battalion, the 2nd Marine Amphibious Tank Company, and the 148th Field Artillery Battalion assaulted the Arawe beach at 5:00a.m. The units were designated as Task Force Director under command of Brigadier General Julian W. Cunningham.

Five miles west of the landing site, a diversionary assault by 150 Commando-trained troops, slipped into rubber boats from transports. The commandoes were designated as Troops A, B, and C. They paddled ashore, under cover of darkness, entering a wooded narrow channel. Their goal was to get behind the Japanese defending the principle landing site, and disrupt reinforcements. A Japanese spotter plane discovered the advancing diversion. Thinking this to be the main attack, the Japanese quickly prepared to meet the landing. At close range they opened fire with machine guns and heavy mortars. The U.S. loss was extreme. The enemy fire destroyed eleven of the sixteen rubber boats, killed or wounded most of the 150 commandoes, and forced the rest to turn back. Their sacrifice enabled the rest of the landing forces to get ashore and by January 16, 1944, all Japanese resistance on Arawe had ended.

One of those men lost in this diversionary assault was George Lee.

George was born on December 4, 1914 in the small farming community of Bybee, Idaho. Bybee is just north of the town of Rigby. He was the second youngest child of Mary Ellen and David Lee. Mary and David had five boys and two girls. The entire family grew up working on the farm and it was always a dream of George to own his own farm.

In 1940, with his four brothers away to school or working on their careers, George’s dream was fulfilled. He was able to purchase, with the help of his father, forty-acres of land just north of the family farm. Being the last boy at home, and with his father suffering a minor heart attack in 1938, he was kept very busy with a heavy workload.

George was not expecting to get drafted. Owning a farm and still helping on his father’s farm as the last son gave him two deferments from the draft. Early in the war the manpower need in the military was extreme. Every able-bodied young man was needed. With the draft looming close, George volunteered in early 1942, which gave him his choice of service. George’s choice was a natural, the cavalry because of his love for horses that he learned at a young age on the family farm.

On July 8, 1942, George married Thelma May (Dot) Martinsen. Thelma was an elegant young woman who worked at a dress shop in Rigby. They were only married a short time before the war called.

Following his basic training, George took an aptitude test that qualified him to be trained as an officer. His opportunity to be in the horse cavalry was not realized as the army had considered this branch obsolete. George graduated officer school in the fall of 1943 and was assigned to the 112th Cavalry Regiment as a Second Lieutenant. The 112th was being deployed to the Pacific to engage the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, New Britain, and Rabaul. These battles were the first offensive actions taken by the U.S. to push the Japanese back towards their home islands.

George was killed on December 15, 1943, during the doomed diversionary landings at Arawe. He was not supposed to be involved in the assault as he had orders to proceed farther up the coast to the main landings. He was asked by a friend and fellow officer to accompany the assault to replace a Lieutenant that was not present. This was only going to be a diversion, nothing too serious.

The loss to the family was extreme. The sorrow was greatest on his father, David. George was the last boy at home and the relationship between father and son was very close. After George’s death the family lost contact with his wife Thelma. The family received word that she had remarried once or twice.

The entire Lee family still speaks of George. Stories have been passed down for many generations concerning this young man who will never grow old, never return to his farm and young wife, never father children or hold grandchildren. He is still remembered fondly as the fun-loving, curly red haired boy.

George’s body was never recovered after the battle at Arawe. There is no grave for his family to visit or to lay flowers upon. A memorial in Manila, Philippines simply reads George William Lee died December 15, 1943, body not recovered.

THE FINAL ROLL CALL:  Author Unknown

We thought of you with love today
But that is nothing new.
We thought about you yesterday
And days before that too.
We think of you in silence
We often speak your name.
Now all we have is memories
And your picture in a frame.
Your memory is our keepsake
With which we’ll never part.
God has you in his keeping
We have you in our heart.

May we never forget the ultimate sacrifices that have been made for our country in defense of freedom. May we always take the time to pay tribute and give thanks to our veterans of all ages.


  • 2ND LT   US ARMY
  • DATE OF DEATH: 12/15/1943

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