You won’t read about this in any history book. It didn’t occur on some field of battle.
As Forrest Gump said, “The best place to start is at the beginning.”
George Ferrocarril and I first met due to a mutual interest in trains. I heard him tell another that he was in the Air Force. So when I could I asked him when he served. He told me he was stationed at Griffiss AFB. I asked him when. I was there at the same time. A friendship started.
George and I didn’t work that far apart. I worked on SAC Hill. He worked below me on the 416 Bomb Wing, 41 Air Refueling Squadron’s KC-135s. I could have beaned him with a short iron golf shot! We didn’t knowingly meet back then. I think I did hear of him from another friend.
George was working Quality Controlling parts for the Space Shuttle when we met. He had a small role in the investigations into the loss of Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.
When I deployed to Iraq in 2003-04, he was one of my best e-mail buddies. He would take the time to keep me busy replying to his e-mails. It sure helped to make my 12 hours shifts go by quickly. Thanks!
After the Shuttle Program ended, George moved on to other contract QC jobs around the country. We always stayed in contact both by e-mails and phone calls.
Then starting in mid-November 2016, he wasn’t answering his phone or replying to e-mails. It took a bit for me to get worried.
January, both myself and my girlfriend Karen Damvelt got very concerned about George. This wasn’t like him. We finally took action.
Karen found George’s Facebook page. She started contacting those listed. One finally responded, Fred Rosen. Fred was concerned to. Fred, a crime book author, took the lead in finding George. In early February, Fred found that George had been found dead in his motel room on November 7, 2016, Karen’s Birthday. Fred learned that George was just treated as an unclaimed body. He was buried in a pauper’s grave near Fort Worth, Texas.
Operation George was started. We decided that George’s estate had to be taken care of. George was going to be reinterned at Fort Custer National Cemetery near me. We were going to live the creed that we do not leave a fallen comrade behind.
George had only an ex-wife, no children, and his folks had already died. George owned a home in Danville, Illinois. I knew he collected Lionel model train cars and engines. George had a train layout in his basement. So we decided that I would seek to become an administrator for his estate.
We didn’t know how we were going to do what had to be done. We were just going to learn on the fly. The first quest was to get a lawyer. George’s Estate had to into probate for me to be named as an administrator. This had to be done so I had legal standing to get things done.
I did an internet search for American Legion Posts in his home county of Vermillion, Illinois. I called the first number listed. I actually got a warm body to answer the phone! I explained about George and was looking for a lawyer. The person told me that they had a lawyer in the Post. He was an officer in the Post. He gave me the lawyer’s name, William Townsley’s number.
I called Mr. Townsley and got right through to him. Mr. Townsley jumped onboard. He got the case into probate and got me named as co-administrator.
Karen and I made a trip to Danville to see what all was in George’s house. We figured we would pack up George’s train collection and bring it home to sell. Once we were in the house, a quick look in the basement, and that plan ended. The basement was FULL of trains and track. It was far too much for us to put in a van. We decided we would need to find a buyer.
There was a department store nearby so we went there. We found a couple of model railroad magazines. Once back at the house Karen started looking through drawers. I found some ads that looked promising. I started to call numbers. I got a gentleman in the Chicago area that was interested. Then Karen made a major discovery. Not one but two wills. We contacted Mr. Townsley and drove to his office.
We were also pissed! The other administrator had been in the house many times, but it sure appeared he never looked in the drawers for wills or other documents. We thought that it should have been one of his first actions.
Mr. Townsley read over the wills and told us that the wills wouldn’t change things, but would do some checking to insure.
The gentleman I called came down the next day. I didn’t feel comfortable starting to make a deal yet, but he was really interested in buying the collection.
I was checking drawers that day. I found an ID bracelet. I saw a bunch of names on the case. It was given to George when he enlisted in the Air Force. One of the names was Fred Rosen. OH WOW! I called Fred to tell him. Fred was about in tears when I told him. Fred will be getting this.
When we were back home, Mr. Townsley told me that the will didn’t change anything. I was still a co-administrator.
Karen and I made one more trip to Danville. This time we brought the engines upstairs so we could photograph and inventory them. That was work! We were astounded when we counted 97. NINETY SEVEN! Some were darned heavy! I spotted a few items on the layout I wanted.
I was packing them up when Karen called for me to come upstairs. Earlier I had been packing up some of George’s papers and putting them into the van. I guess a neighbor saw that and called the police. I had brought my file with all the papers on Operation George into the house. So I reached next to me and quickly found the paper from Probate Court naming me co-administrator. After reading the document the officer told us to have a good day. Back to work.
I gathered up the rest of George’s papers. Boy I swear he never threw much away! I gathered up all the pictures and video tapes. George loved trains. He would video tape trains when he was out rail fanning. I found about a hundred tapes. I took the cabinets he used to store his tapes. Karen found a couple of stuffed animals. How could I tell her no? I saw a fatigue shirt George wore in the Air Force. It was very well worn. I could still see where the patches, name tapes, and rank had been. It brought back memories. I didn’t take it due to that. Too many I guess.
I found two framed documents in his bedroom. One was an Air Force certificate for acing a PT Test. The other was from United Space Alliance for his help in the investigation into the loss of Shuttle Columbia. I am keeping those. The give me better memories to remember George by.
Once back home through e-mails, I concluded the deal for the trains. The other administrator held an auction to sell the contents of the house. The house went back to bank. George had taken out a large second mortgage. Most of the balance still remained. I have a theory on this, but I can’t find enough in his papers to prove it. If I am right he found an interesting way to beat probate to get money to his heirs.
Now to the mission to get George out of a pauper’s grave.
Over the next year, I made many, many calls to government agencies, veteran groups, and politicians only to get a no or no replay. Frustrating.
Over the next year from time to time I would make calls as I would get an idea on who might help. I always knew the “Nos” didn’t matter. All I needed was just one “Yes” to make things happen.
Finally this winter I called Senator Cruz’s DC office. The aide gave me the number for the Texas State Senator who’s district George is buried. I called and talked with Jimika Allison. Once she heard the story, she got onboard. Jimika found Lezlie Kurtz. Lezlie works for a group that helps people donate their bodies to science. Lezlie knows the minefield one must go through to disinter a body.
Finally the allies I needed! Those ladies have been great in making things happen. They found a crematorium that is owned by an Air Force veteran that will donate the cremation. These ladies contacted veteran groups to raise the $1,500 for the exhumation. The cemetery is privately owned and refused to waive their fee.
Now today we are down to just one last agency. The Texas Agency of Vital Statics has lost my check! In my last call from them, they are feeling the heat!
I am optimistic the end of Operation George is near. I am hoping that we can have George’s proper internment at Fort Custer National Cemetery on June 28. I wanted this to be done by this Memorial Day. Lezlie has told me that she will visit George and lay a flower on his grave.
Operation George has been a mixture of success and frustration. Karen, Fred, and I will enjoy once this is done. A veteran will have been properly honored. A credo will have been honored.
The moral is this never should have happened! No veteran should ever be dumped in a pauper’s grave. NEVER! We have so much information available through databases and the internet. There is no excuse that local authority for not taking the time to check. NONE!
Operation George must become a mission for our politicians to pass laws to mandate that this can’t happen again. This should be the last Operation George anyone should anyone have to do.