2LT George Philip Gaffney, Jr.
35th Fighter Group, 41st Fighter Squadron
MIA 11 March, 1944 in the Finesterre Mountains,
New Guinea; Found 26 June, 1998
With devotion and pride,
Twenty three year-old Second Lieutenant George Philip Gaffney, Jr. was
a fighter pilot who went missing in his P47 on March 11, 1944 in the
jungles of the Finesterre Mountains of New Guinea, leaving a young widow
and me, his unborn, fatherless child.
My father was born on February 8, 1921 in Madison, Wisconsin. His
parents were Edna Oien, who came from a Norwegian family in nearby Lodi
and George Sr., whose Irish family homesteaded in the rolling green
hills near Madison in 1853. My father was an only son with three younger
sisters, Janet, Marian and Joanne. He graduated from West High School in
1939. While attending the University of Wisconsin he met my mother, Ruth
Christensen, who was attending beauty school in Madison.
In March, 1942 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in Milwaukee. He took
Primary Flight training in Tulsa, OK; Basic in
Winfield, KS and was promoted to 2nd Lt with Class 43G from Eagle Pass,
TX on July 29, 1943. He immediately went to Chicago, where my mother was
working, and proposed. Together they went to Tampa FL, where they were
married on Friday the 13th of August. Two days later they were sent to
Thomasville, GA and shortly after to Tallahassee, FL where my father was
assigned to a fighter pilot pool. As he expected to be shipped out
any day, my mother returned to her family in Wisconsin early in November.
She was already experiencing morning sickness. She remembers her last
glimpse of my father as the train pulled away and he waved good-bye as
he turned to leave. She says he looked so handsome in his brand new
On December 12th he was shipped out to San Francisco, sent to
Australia and arrived in Pt. Moresby, New Guinea on Christmas Eve. Bob
Rouse, who was with him, told me there had been a fight in the mess hall
that night and as a result, they got no dinner! They were both assigned
to the 35th Fighter Group, 41st Fighter Squadron at Nadzab the next day.
From January 29th to February 15th, 1944 my father was in hospital in
Mackay, Australia recovering from malaria. By the time he rejoined his
squadron, they had moved up to Gusap along the Ramu River. According to
squadron records, he flew between seven and twelve missions prior to the
11th of March, when he would fly no more.
My father's last mission on the morning of 11 March was to Boram airfield
at Wewak on the northwestern coast of New Guinea. This Japanese stronghold
had been a target for several months as the Allied forces moved toward the
Philippines. My father became separated from his group during a dogfight and
landed at Saidor to refuel. He reported downing an enemy plane, requested
fuel and asked to have his plane checked for damage. When none was found,
he took off at 2:50 pm for his base at Gusap, at 20 minute flight over the
Finesterre Mts. Members of his squadron searched for him for three days.
Fifty-four years later his wreck and remains would be found at 8000' on a
direct path to Gusap. 'Finesterre' translated from the French means 'the end
of the earth'. That is where I went to find him, to the end of the earth.
Destined to be George Gaffney's only child, I was born on June 22nd,
one-hundred and three days after he disappeared. It was the day
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill into law which
enabled me, a war orphan, to go to college.
My father's family and childhood friends describe him as a warm,
thoughtful young man with a legendary wit. Mom tells me he was pensive,
affectionate, and had a powerful sense of justice. He adored his mother,
loved to dance and had a close group of friends known as the "gang of
twelve." He loved Ravel's Bolero, Dostoevsky, the Rubaiyat of Omar
Khayyam and potato pancakes. He was extremely proud to be a pilot and
planned to return to the University of Wisconsin to attend law school
after the war. It would be his grandchildren who would fulfill his
dreams: Lisa Rae graduated from the UW in 1986 and David Philip from the
UW Law School in 1993.
On June 26, 1998 my father's remains were found with his wrecked P47 by
Alfred Hagen, an American businessman. The discovery was made near where
I had flown in 1995 calling out from my heart,
"Daddy, where are you?"
After more than fifty-four years, my father has been returned to his
country and the family that loved him and continued to speak his name. A
service to celebrate his life and spirit was held on June 5, 1999 at St.
Raphael's Cathedral, where my father was baptized, served as an altar boy
and where I too was baptized, in his memory. He was laid to rest in Arlington
National Cemetery on June 9, 1999, with full Military Honors.
He is not forgotten, my father.
-- Patricia Susan Gaffney Kindig --