Ex-Aurora mayor survived World War II despite injuries, malaria

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

Aurora -- As a U.S. Marine serving in the South Pacific during World War II, Aurora's George Hettinger, a radio operator, carried a 40-pound radio on his back.

"You can imagine walking through a field with a large radio and antenna," he said. "You were an excellent target for the Japanese. They knew if they knocked out the radio man, they'd knock out communications.

Hettinger, 88, who is the father-in-law of Aurora Councilman John Kudley, survived on three battlegrounds -- Guadalcanal, Guam and Okinawa.

"The Marines saw a lot of action," he added. "If you survived one place, you were sent to another place."

Reared in Cleveland Heights, Hettinger wound up in the service because he "didn't behave very well in high school. My dad told me, 'Either you enlist or I'll send you to jail,'" he said.

Hettinger knew he wasn't going to jail, but he followed his father's stern advice, entering the service at age 17.

Why pick the Marines?

"I really liked this girl in high school," he said. "It seemed like everybody was going into the Army, so I thought joining the Marines would really get her attention."

Trained by the Marines at a radio operators' school in San Diego, he was assigned to the South Pacific. Hettinger served at Guadalcanal, where mosquitoes gave him malaria, which left him weak with dizzy spells.

"If you got malaria in the South Pacific, you stayed there," he said. "A lot of us got malaria. But you still had to do your job."

IN GUAM, a Japanese bullet struck Hettinger in the right hip, and he was sent to Australia to recover.

"I got a break from fighting, but as soon as I was repaired, they sent me back," he said.

At Okinawa, he was hit in the right shoulder by a piece of shrapnel, part of which remains in him today, and he recuperated in New Zealand.

"There is nothing easy about war," he said. "The Japanese soldiers hid in caves, came out, did their dirty work and hid again. They stole a lot of ammunition and weapons."

Hettinger, who rose to the rank of tech sergeant, worked with the Navajo Indians code talkers, who could communicate in a way that the Japanese never understood. Hettinger's job was to receive, in Navajo language, whatever message was sent by U.S. forces and translate it into English, using Morse code.

A sergeant and corporal were his protectors, assigned to shoot and kill Hettinger rather than allow him to be captured because he knew too many secrets.

Hettinger was not close to being captured, but he saw a lot of action. He acquired a rifle from a dead Japanese soldier, then his commander shipped it to his parents' home as a war souvenir.

After serving four years during World War II, Hettinger was stationed in northeast China when the fighting ended in 1945. "Our job was to take the Japanese out of China and back to Japan on landing ship tanks," he said.

During the Korean War, Hettinger was called back to serve in the Marine Reserves, but he served the entire 1 1/2-year stint at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

HE SPENT those weekends on nearby Topsail Island, where he later bought a home that his family still uses for vacations.

After World War II, Hettinger graduated from Kent State University, where he met his future wife, Arlyn Robinson. They were married for 55 years before she died in 2004.

She was a teacher in Aurora for 30 years. They had four children -- sons David and Mark and daughters Chris Ganoe and Barb Kudley. All became teachers except Mark.

Hettinger taught chemistry and physics at Aurora High School, and became principal at Kenston High School and superintendent of Warrensville Heights schools, a job he held for 20 years. HE then taught chemistry at the University of Akron.

He was elected to three 2-year terms as mayor of Aurora, serving from 1961-65 and 1970-71. Before and after his time at mayor, he was a City Councilman, where he was the longtime chairman of the finance committee. He also was a paramedic with the local fire department. Until 2006 he was a member of the parks and recreation committee.

Hettinger, who lives at Anna Maria of Aurora senior living community, spoke briefly with a friend passing by his door. "He's an ex-Marine," Hettinger said. The man responded, "There are no ex-Marines." Hettinger added, "Once you're a Marine, you're always a Marine."

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

Facebook: facebook.com/mike.lesko.378

Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.