SGT George Thomas Mitchell
July 11, 1920 – September 4, 2014
“The world looked at us as second-class citizens, and we wanted to make a difference,” Mr. Mitchell said in a 2003 U-T San Diego interview. “We figured if we succeeded, we would be opening doors for other people.”
George was the only child of Edward and Helen Mitchell, raised in South Philadelphia. Mr. Mitchell took to the radio at an early age, teaching himself how to build and operate his first set when he was about 12. He loved it so much his mother had to take the tubes out of the radio to get him to do his homework.
He applied for and was accepted into the highly competitive Central High School, where he graduated with honors in 1938.
As it turned out, radio may have saved his life. During the war, on the day before he was to be shipped overseas in the infantry, an Army officer asked him if he had any special skills. Mr. Mitchell mentioned radio code.
“Come with me,” the officer said.
Due to his prior electronics knowledge and experience. He was assigned as an Aviation Cadet Ground School Instructor at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama teaching blinker code using the Aldus Light system, and taught radio communications to student pilots and navigators.
He received an honorable discharge as a Sergeant, declining an offer of Warrant Officer as he returned to civilian life. George married Lillian Frances Stokes, whom he met at an USO dance.
The couple lived in Chicago, IL until moving to Bremerton, WA, where he entered civil service as a Navy employee at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Later, the family moved to Seattle, WA and in 1963, to San Diego, CA, where he was the Division Head Electronics Engineer for shipboard electronics systems. George accepted a supervisory position at the Shore Repair Facility in Agana, Guam, where he and his family lived for 2 years before transferring to Subic Bay, Philippines, with a position in the Shore Electronics Division. They remained there for the next 6 ½ years. While living in Guam and the Philippines, he made numerous trips to Vietnam, at the height of the war, installing radar and communications equipment for the U.S. Navy. He retired as Technical Director Chief Electronics Engineer as a GS15 in 1972. After retiring from Civil Service, he accepted employment with the University of California Scripps Institute of Oceanography as a U.S. Merchant Marine Radio Electronics Officer. As an accomplished photographer, George captured photographic details of the scientists’ discoveries as they sailed the 2200 miles of the Amazon River. After leaving Scripps, he worked for the Exxon Shipping Company as a Radio Officer for the oil tankers traveling between California and Valdez, Alaska, retiring in 1987.
George was a well-known animal lover, caring for many strays. He was a published photographer, exhibited at the San Diego Photographic Museum, and won numerous national awards. He was a past member of the Toastmasters, Urban League, NAACP, the Seattle Black Y.M.C.A., and faithful member of Chollas View United Methodist Church since 1963. He served in the capacity of Docent, a voluntary position for Scripps Aquarium. In retirement, George pursued his passions of Amateur Radio (call sign K6ZE), photography, and jazz. He was a life member of the American Radio Relay League, and in 2012 was honored by the Quarter Century Wireless Association for 75 years as an active Amateur Radio operator (he was first licensed at age 12). He was a member of the OMIK Amateur Radio Association, the Air Force Flyers Club, and the Old Timers Club.
Active in the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen association, Mitchell often gave speeches at schools. In 2007, when the aviators were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, he was among 300 members from around the country to attend the ceremony in Washington, D.C.