LtCol George A. Sarles
Marine Bomber Squadron VMB-611
Missing in Action 30 May, 1945 near Davao, Mindanao, Philippine Islands
Crew remains recovered and group burial at Arlington National Cemetery, summer 1950
-- Alan J. Sarles --
George Arthur Sarles, the youngest of five children, was born July 16, 1908 in Mount Kisco, New York to John and Edith Sarles. After graduating from Mount Kisco
High School, he attended Dartmouth College, Class of 1930. John & Edith owned and operated a general store on West Main Street in Mount Kisco. During George's
junior year at Dartmouth, they needed help at the store and he delayed completing his studies for one year, graduating in 1931.
George entered the Marine Corps Reserve on April 18, 1930 at Boston, MA and served on active and inactive duty as an enlisted man and officer throughout the 1930s.
He married Harriet on September 9, 1935. They had three children: Dale, 11/18/36; Alan, 4/14/38 and Sondra, 1/3/45. In 1939, George left the Marines to become a
civilian pilot for Trans World Airlines. He rejoined the Corps November 15, 1940.
He served in the Asiatic-Pacific Area from September 1, 1942 to August 24, 1943, first as Operations officer for Marine Brigadier General Roy Geiger on Guadalcanal
and then as commanding officer of VMTB-141 and 151 until June 2, 1943. For his work as Operations Officer of the Bomber Command at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal
from 9/23/42 to 11/15/42, Major Sarles received the Legion of Merit. The citation read in part: "Despite constant fierce hostile bombing and shelling, he remained
at his exposed control station, and with brilliant initiative and fearless determination supervised the operations of our forces, thus contributing immeasurably to
the security of our positions on the island."
George was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on May 6, 1943 and became commanding officer of VMB611 on November 16, 1943. Training for the squadron was at Cherry Point,
NC, Boca Chica, FL and Page Field, (Parris Island, SC). VMB-611 was one of several Marine Corps bomber squadrons to use the B-25 Mitchell (PBJ) as a low level (200-500
feet) aircraft to bomb and strafe targets in the Pacific Theater. VMB-611 provided air support for Army and Navy units during the battle to retake the Philippines in 1945.
In August 1944, over half the flight echelon flew their planes from Cherry Point, NC to El Toro Marine Corps Air Station near San Diego, then by ship to MCAS Ewa, Honolulu.
The ground echelon plus some flight crews went by train to Port Hueneme, CA and by ship to Zamboanga, Mindanao, Philippine Islands. Meanwhile the flight crews flew their planes
to Emirau and began operations in November 1944. The two groups were re-united at Zamboanga, 30 March 1945, when the flight crews flew their planes from Moratai.
While in Emirau, "Sarles' Raiders" as they had come to be known, was a proud and dedicated squadron that would prove the effectiveness of Marine B-25s in close aerial support of
ground troops. Day and night missions to Kavieng, Rabaul, New Ireland and the Solomon Islands involved missions at 1,500 to 10,000 feet. On night missions to Kavieng, the crews
had to deal with enemy defenders using searchlights to make their anti-aircraft crews more effective. The lights also rattled the nerves of the "green" crews. On one mission,
"Sarles got fed up with it and dove down, following one of the beams, braving intense enemy fire and at 1,500 feet fired a salvo of rockets -- the light went out." This brought
even more respect from his men and encouraged the crews to follow his lead.
In the Philippines VMB-611 joined MAG 32 and the 1st Marine Air Wing at Moret Field, Zamboanga, Mindanao as the only Marine Bomber Squadron. The squadron flew 244 sorties in April
and 193 in May with 15 PBJs. On 30 May 1945, Lt. Col. Sarles ordered seven PBJs to sweep the Kibawe Trail near Davao and Mount Apo (Mindanao's highest mountain) in 3 waves of 2
plus one. The Colonel's plane was in the second wave and flew toward the base of Mount Apo to look for artillery. He flew right over some camouflaged gun positions, catching a
glimpse of them as he passed. Turning, he came back for a bomb run at treetop level and was almost immediately hit in one engine by anti-aircraft fire. He tried to pull up but
the remaining engine could not generate sufficient power. One wing caught a tree. The plane crashed to the ground. The Colonel and three crewmembers were killed by the anti-aircraft
fire or the crash.
The squadron was never the same after the Colonel died. He had been the head and the heart of the squadron. The Marine Corps had lost an exceptional officer and his men knew it.
In 1950, the remains of the four Marines were found in a common grave. The remains were returned to the United States for internment at Arlington National Cemetery in the summer of
1950. My mother never accepted my father's death. She threw away all the letters he had written to her and some of the military papers. Fortunately George's mother and his sister, Julia,
kept the letters George sent and I have them, plus medals, papers, the flag from his casket and his ceremonial sword. My brother and I could never get our mother to talk about his
life after he was killed - it was too emotional for her.
In 1983, I attended a reunion of VMB-611 veterans and their families in San Diego, California. It was one of the most wonderful and joyful weekends of my life. I had a chance to
learn what kind of man my father was as a leader of men. I was asked to bring pictures and anything else that would help the men & wives get to know more about George's family life -
which I did in the form of an album of photos and citations. At the time, two of George's brothers were still alive and I wrote a long summary of the weekend for them, my mother,
brother, sister and two cousins.
The squadron continued to have reunions every two years until the last one, August 2005, in Washington, D.C. I attended almost all of them and continued to learn more about my father
and the men that served with him. I shared copies of photos and George's letters with Raymond Perry, author of The Bombers of Magszam, a history of VMB-611. My sister, Sondra,
attended three reunions and learned a great deal about her father who she never knew. Sondra and I will donate the materials I have to a World War II or Marine Corps museum to honor
our father and the squadron he commanded.