George Middleton fulfilled his childhood ambition to fly by becoming an Air Force pilot during WWII. He shared his enthusiasm for life and his quest for knowledge by challenging and inspiring Clovis High School students for 29 years beginning as an agricultural mechanic instructor and later a student counselor.
George is a third generation native Californian. His grandfather was born in Kingston. The town was established in 1854 as a ferry crossing over the Kings River Kingston no longer exists but was situated on the Kings River opposite present day Laton.
At age sixteen, he started flying an American Eagle plane from his family’s cow pasture field in the Kingsburg area. The plane is described as: Waco UPF-7 bi-plane with an open cock pit, 9-cylinder continental radial engine with max speed of 90 miles per hour. Soon George would be flying an F-106 fighter jet that would top 1,534 miles per hour.
At the onset of WWII, George was enrolled in the College Pilot’s Training at Reedley College. He joined the Air Force in 1942 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1944. He became an instructor for C-47’s and C-46’s. Later he was assigned to the Combat Crew Training for China.
The Crew’s mission was to ferry supplies and personnel to India and China across the Himalayas by way of Scotland and Iran. They became known as “Hump” pilots. He recalls weather was a major concern during those missions. At the end of the conflict, he flew Chinese officials to Taipei for the Japanese surrender of Formosa (Taiwan). He was decorated in person by Chiang Kai-shek who awarded him Chinese wings. He flew support for General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army and Secretary of War until July of 1946.
He returned to civilian life and graduated from Reedley College and Cal Poly. He began teaching Ag at Clovis High School in 1949 and eventually became a student counselor. He was recalled by the Air Force in 1952 and served with the 86th Wing in Germany and NATO. He returned to Clovis High in 1957 and joined the Air Guard at that time. He served as commanding officer for the 144th Fighter Interceptor Group in Fresno from 1969 to 1971. He retired as a Brigadier General in 1971. While serving as the 144th Group Operations Officer in 1965, an F-102 Delta Dagger supersonic jet interceptor was christened “City of Clovis”.
The horrific 1969 Hurricane Camille, wind velocity 190 mph with wind gusts over 220 mph, provided him a unique opportunity to display his leadership. As commanding officer with six hundred men on training in Gulfport, MS., he ordered his doctors and corpsmen to enter the town to give aid to the injured. His rapid action to reopen the airport enabled relief supplies and aid to respond quickly to the catastrophe. All was accomplished without any troop injuries.
During military reunions, the men that participated with him stated: “Here’s the one who saved all our lives!”
George received a commendation from President Nixon for his professional handling of the tragic event.
When meeting George, you were aware of his height, good looks, and his military posture. Many of his former students-maintained lines of communications. They still affectionately remember his genuine interest in their future. He and his wife Pauline were Reedley College sweethearts. They were married on April 14, 1944. They were inducted into the Clovis Hall of Fame in 2000 for their civic leadership especially with our youth.
George died on August 25, 2008, and Pauline would follow him four years later the same month/day in 2012. George and Pauline lived our traditional American values that continue to sustain and challenge our families, our community, and our country.
They left us a rich heritage.