Los Alamos resident George Shaw, 92, was a radio operator during the 1950s conflict
By Pamela Dozois
Los Alamos residents can see 92-year-old George Freddie Shaw buzzing around town on his electric scooter every day of the week. But few know that he is a Korean War Army veteran and a Bronze Star Medal recipient. He has papers to prove it, but he said he never did receive the medal itself, an oversight that he says many of the veterans he feels have experienced. “It was wartime,” he said.
Born in San Luis Obispo, George attended Vista Del Mar School and the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School. After two years of high school, he went to work and then joined the Army in 1951 and was based at Fort Ord.
“The Korean War was in full steam when I joined the Army and I was shipped out to Korea right after basic training,” Shaw said. “It took 18 days to get there. I was a radio operator with the 35th Infantry Regiment Combat Team. I was the chief driver and radio operator for a colonel whose name I can’t remember at the moment.
“I was lucky because I didn’t see any real fighting but I carried a .45-caliber weapon in a shoulder holster along with my rifle just in case. We were also given a poison pill to use in case we were caught. The Koreans would torture you if you were caught and the army thought the pill would come in handy just in case you needed to kill yourself. But I was lucky, I was never captured.”
Shaw received the Bronze Star on Nov. 12, 1951. The citation reads, “Private First-Class George F. Shaw performed his duties as a radio operator in an exemplary manner in Korea. Working directly under enemy fire, he displayed great technical skill and outstanding initiative in maintaining communications at a high level of efficiency to contribute to the success of the unit mission. Often exposing himself to the heavy mortar and artillery bombardment, he worked tirelessly through the engagement to assure the unit that the vital radio system remained open to allow contact with all friendly elements. Private First-Class Shaw’s determination and unremitting devotion to duty are in keeping with the best traditions of the American soldier.”
As it was wartime, Shaw had to deal with some unpleasant experiences.
“There was one incident where we were ordered to retrieve all of the equipment, what was left of it, and our dead brothers from a battle with Korean soldiers. It was something you had to do. But it was terrible,” he recalled. “One time I heard a shot fired and when I got back to camp one of the guys from security asked me if I had heard that shot. I said yes. He replied, ‘You were next. There was a Korean soldier lying in wait to kill the next guy to come around the corner, and that guy was you.’ That was my lucky day!”
Shaw also remembered his times with the unidentified colonel.
“One day the colonel asked me if I wanted to go up in a jet for a little ride and I said, ’No, thank you, sir. It might just be the day that that pilot’s number is up,’” he recounted. “The Colonel and I would go all over the place, to Seoul where the Navy and the Air Force were stationed. Both of those outfits had real good food, but the Army’s food wasn’t that great. But we made it.”
Shaw was in the Army for three years and spent 10 months in Korea. When he got back stateside, he said he was stationed at Camp Cooke, which is now Vandenberg Space Force Base.
“When my enlistment was up, I returned to ranching, working at Cornelius & Sons Cattle Company in Santa Ynez. They had leased ranch property all over the Valley,” said Shaw.
“I was involved with cattle practically all my life. I enjoyed working with cattle. I made a good living and we worked, rain or shine. I worked at the Western White House when Raymond Cornelius owned it. He sold it to President Reagan, you know. I’m a big fan of Reagan,” he said, pointing to a calendar on his wall displaying a photo of the late president.
After leaving Cornelius & Sons, Shaw went to work at Janeway, making up and cleaning out campsites for the Rancheros.
“I worked with the Rancheros for many, many years, but I was not a member of the Rancheros, just an employee,” he said.
Shaw also worked for Hutchison Fencing and took care of the Los Alamos Cemetery for 20 years.
“I still go to the cemetery every day to visit my wife, Charlene, who passed away on March 14, 2014,” he said. “I was married to her for 42 years and had four step-children.
“Every day I go around town on my scooter for about two hours taking different streets, up and down and around town, then head back up Centennial Avenue and home. I see different people walking their dogs and jogging and people say hello and wave hello at me. I love living in Los Alamos. It’s nice and quiet and everyone is very nice and friendly.”
On his 90th birthday, in the middle of COVID, and to his utmost surprise, dozens of local veterans and patriots in cars and on motorcycles surprised Shaw with a drive-by veteran vehicle salute in front of his home which was organized by Welcome Home Military Heroes.
“I watched my birthday parade go by in front of my home,” said Shaw. “That was really nice of them to do that for me. I really enjoyed it.”
Shaw is a charter member of the Santa Ynez Valley Elks Lodge, a member of the Legion, a lifetime member of the VFW, a member of the Los Alamos Men’s Club, the Los Alamos Senior Center, and a Los Alamos treasure.