Michael D. George, who served his country as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam and his community as a firefighter and captain with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, has died at age 62.
He died April 16 of cancer, said his wife, Cheryl.
A Sacramento native, Mr. George enlisted in 1968 and served two tours in the Army. His ability to type landed him a clerical job in Georgia, but he grew bored with noncombat duty and obtained a transfer to flight school. Assigned to the 1st Air Cavalry in Vietnam, he flew helicopters on resupply and medical evacuation missions in addition to gunships in support of ground troops.
He was a highly decorated pilot who received two Air Medals, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Bronze Stars. Shot down four times, he suffered leg injuries that also earned him the Purple Heart. He was especially proud to receive a Marine Corps commendation, a rare acknowledgment from another military branch for a job well done.
Upon returning home in 1972, he was stunned by war protesters who "called him a baby killer," his wife said. He took a job as Florin Fire District dispatcher, became a firefighter by 1977 and was an engineer two years later.
"He just figured he would try to live a normal life and sooner or later, he would feel normal," Cheryl George said. "Being a firefighter saved him. It gave him order and structure and allowed him to continue serving others."
Mr. George spent 36 years in the fire service as Florin merged with the American River Fire District and eventually became the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District. Promoted to captain in 1983, he drew on his military training to make split-second decisions in dangerous situations.
"Mike was a real leader," fire engineer Rob Humphrey said. "He had to rely on his training to trust he was making the right decision. He always did."
Michael Dennis George was born in 1946. He learned to type while visiting his mother, a clerical worker, on the job. He graduated from Hiram Johnson High School in 1964 and worked as a house painter before joining the Army.
Divorced twice, he was married since 2002 to the former Cheryl Behm. He had a daughter during a brief first marriage to Lois Skidgel before his enlistment and another daughter during a longer marriage to Margaret Sampson.
Mr. George was an adventure seeker who challenged himself as an Army pilot and firefighter. He was an active man who enjoyed sky-diving and riding motorcycles and driving fast cars.
Although humble about his military accomplishments, he was a fun man who enjoyed telling stories and being with family and co-workers. As a captain, he welcomed firefighters' families to dinners and events at Station 51 near Power Inn and Calvine roads. He retired in March 2008.
"He served his country in Vietnam and then came to the job we do in the community," Humphrey said. "I consider Mike a true American hero."
By Robert D. Dávila