Born: March 9, 1924
Service Branch: United States Army (Airborne, Air Corps, Infantry, Paratrooper)
George served in World War II as a paratrooper with 464th Field Artillery Battalion of the elite 17th Airborne Division. In March 1945, he jumped behind enemy lines crossing the Rhine River in Wesel, Germany, during Operation Varsity, the largest allied airborne assault in military history to be conducted on a single day, and in one location. Operation Varsity which occurred near the end of World War II, involved more than 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft. Nearly all military objectives were met, yet allied troops incurred more than 2,000 casualties, but captured approximately 3,000 German soldiers.
It was on March 9, 1943, when 19-year-old George Zlotnick raised his right hand in Willimantic, Connecticut, and enlisted in the United States Army. Beginning his military career as an infantryman, George soon after joined the Army Air Corps, which years later became the United States Air Force. George’s dream was to always fly, so he began flight training and was well on his way to earning his wings. When the war took a drastic change and the American troops began to suffer mounting loss of life on the ground, the U.S. government called for any troops who had previous ground training, to transfer back into the infantry. George agreed, joining the 39th Infantry Division in Georgia, but this lasted for only two weeks.
A poster advertising a bit of extra pay to jump from airplanes drew George’s attention one day. He thought this might be the closest he would ever get to fulfilling his dream of flying.
“I figured if I was going to Germany, I would rather fly in, rather than walk in, even if flying meant jumping from a plane,” George recalled, every military and war detail still so fresh in his mind.
George was subsequently sent to Pre-Flight Training at Teacher’s College in Pennsylvania. Three hundred men took the exam. Names were called alphabetically, so George waited for 299 names to be called until finally the letter ‘Z’ finally arrived. When it finally did, the sergeant informed George he had received the highest score.
“He told me I either knew a whole lot, or else I was a pretty good guesser,” George chuckled. “I’d like to think I knew a lot.”
Once this training was completed, George was sent to Germany where on March 24, 1945, he participated in the largest airborne assault in military history. Operation Varsity was kept very quiet, so quiet in fact few reporters were granted any information until years later. To this day, few outside military service are familiar with Operation Varsity, however it carried great significance in the outcome of the war, and the defeat of Germany and Adolph Hitler.
“Grandpa cannot recite much of what he saw without immediately breaking down in tears,” said Peter Zlotnick, 28, George’s oldest grandson. “What he will tell you, and quite proudly, was about the time he carried the barrel of a cannon weighing more than 200 pounds over his shoulder through enemy fire, and how he sprinted with it to safety because he knew that his troops needed it to complete the assembly of the cannon in order to fight back. He vividly remembers the sound of bullets cracking through the air as they whizzed by …”
George is very proud of his military history, and his service to the United States. He is a true American patriot. Although World War II ended in May, 1945, George was not discharged until February, 1946. He served his country for 35 months.
Born: December 2, 1920
Deceased: May 10, 2018
Service Branch: United States Navy
In the 1940s, Helen, a Willington native, thought about what she would like to do following graduation from high school, and decided to become a nurse. She applied for a special nursing program, available both in Boston and New York, and subsequently chose Kings County Hospital for her education. As a Cadet Nurse, supervised and paid by the government, she lived and studied in New York from 1942 to 1945. Then, when the Korean War ended, she returned to Connecticut to work as a nurse at the University of Connecticut.
When the Korean War broke out from 1952-56, Helen went into the Navy, with the permission of UConn and the understanding that she would return to her work there when it was possible. She came in to the military as a Lieutenant JG, and after several years was promoted to full Lieutenant. In 1956, informed by a letter from the government that “you are part of the Navy,” she was appointed Lieutenant of the Nurse Corps of the Reserve of the United States Navy, and eventually earned the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Her years of service alternated with periods of return to UConn.
During her tenure with the military, she served in St. Albans, New York; Bethesda, Maryland; the sub base in New London; and at Guantanamo in Cuba. Her responsibilities included treating returning veterans severely distressed after battle; she found she had a deep calm that enabled her to quiet down difficult patients who seemed threatening to others—a new awareness that she would not have wanted to miss. She also worked with those who had orthopedic and surgical needs, and with dependent family members of servicemen.
In 1966, after marriage, she returned to Connecticut and her career at UConn.
In reflecting on her years and relationships in the military, Helen remembers the experience as being like a family. “We were well-housed, and someone was always there if you needed a shoulder to lean on.”
Among people ranging in age from the 20s to the 60s, she made many new friends, was treated with respect by the other officers, and was never lonesome. In her time off, she traveled in Europe or visited relatives in Connecticut. She is saddened when she thinks about so many colleagues who have passed on, but has vivid memories of the lives and events they shared at a historic time.
Photo of Helen, in her dress uniform as a Cadet Nurse. Photo sometime between 1942-1945.
Born: April 18, 1926
Deceased: June 18, 2015
Service Branch: United States Navy
Nick served mostly in the Philippines from 1943-1945. He achieved the rank of Seaman First Class; his entire tour of duty was land-based. Nick operated a warehouse supply depot where he was responsible for receiving, stocking, and dispersing welding equipment.
Nick enlisted soon after war was declared. His motive was to serve his country, and to see the world, yet he admitted he did not get very far, just to the Philippines. Upon entry to the Navy, Nick attended Boot Camp in Newport, RI, then spent brief periods in Staten Island, NY, and San Bruno, CA, prior to his deployment to the Philippines.
“I enjoyed my time of military service,” Nick admitted. “I count my blessings that I was not forced into actual combat where I was asked to shoot someone. I did see a service man burn to death when a diesel engine blew up as he was servicing it. I will never forgot that.”
Nor will he forget receiving word in May, 1945, reporting Germany had surrendered and World War II was over.
“It was about nine o’clock in the evening,” Nick recalled. “A fellow came over and told me, ‘the war is over … the war is over.’ I can still remember everyone jumping up and down, shouting ‘the war is over.’ It was a great day.”
Born: April 15, 1941
Deceased: May 24, 2015
Service Branch: United States Navy
Dreams die hard. Joe Hutnik spent his youth imagining he would one day be a pilot. At age 23, and in 1964, Joe’s journey began. He enlisted in the Navy, and began his military career in Pensacola, FL, Corpus Christi, TX, and San Diego (CA).
After his training was completed, Joe served two tours of duty in Vietnam between 1967-1969. His flights departed from and landed at an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Gulf of Tonkin is a body of water located off the coast of northern Vietnam and southern China. It is a northern arm of the South China Sea.
On 4 August 1964, United States President Lyndon B. Johnson claimed that North Vietnamese forces had twice attacked American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Known today as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, this event spawned the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of August 7, 1964, ultimately leading to open war between North Vietnam and the United States. Furthermore, it foreshadowed the major escalation of the Vietnam War in South Vietnam, which began with the landing of US regular combat troops at Da Nang in 1965.
After briefly leaving the Navy in 1969, Joe flew for United Airlines before re-joining in the Navy a little over a year later (1971). Joe agreed to transition from fixed wing airplanes into helicopters for a shore duty assignment at the Naval Air Station Oceania in Virginia Beach, VA where he performed search and rescue duties. He went back to fixed wing aircraft when ordered to the USS America from 1973-1975 in Norfolk, VA.
From 1975 until leaving active military service in 1978, Joe worked at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, where he was program manager for a highly classified United States Navy weapons security program.
Joe left the Navy a second time and went back to United Airlines when United recalled its pilots furloughed 7 years earlier. He had achieved the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Joe summed up over 12 years of military service, specifically carrier operations, as “exciting, thrilling and, oh yes, sometimes dangerous.”