Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

World War II gunner receives Distinguished Flying Cross


It took 63 years, but on Wednesday George Costage was finally honored for his courage during World War II flying in B-24 bombers such as the Pistol Packin' Mama.

No longer the robust young soldier, he is now 83, slightly hard of hearing and living in the Briar Creek Mobile Home Park.

Costage was presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross by U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, for his heroism during aerial combat over Europe.

"I've known George for 25 years,'' Bilirakis said. "He's almost like a father figure to me. He just told me my shoelaces were untied.''

Bilirakis went on to describe Costage's bravery, honor and dignity — qualities that served him well on 35 combat missions from August 1944 to March 1945. At the time of his discharge, the criteria for receiving the medal was different, according to the congressman's office. It was later changed, and officials discovered that Costage was eligible for the honor after all.

"Congratulations,'' Bilirakis said, handing Costage the medal. "You're so deserving.''

A former Safety Harbor city commissioner and vice mayor, Costage normally is not at a loss for words. But at that moment he was so filled with emotion he could hardly speak.

"I can't talk,'' he said. "I'm sorry. I'm just shook up.''

• • •

Costage was born on March 4, 1925, in Detroit.

After graduating from Fordson High School in Dearborn, Mich., he was drafted into the Army at 18 and began the adventure of a lifetime.

As a private, he served in the infantry but said he decided he "didn't like that'' and signed up as an air cadet in the Army Air Forces.

After passing exams in Miami, he was sent to gunnery school at Tyndall Field in the Florida panhandle and then to Davis Mountain Air Force Base in Arizona.

From there, he shipped overseas to Europe and worked as a gunner firing double .50-caliber machine guns. Costage was one of six gunners on board.

He flew 35 missions, his planes bombing oil refineries, tank plants, factories, train depots and bridges in the German cities of Cologne, Koblenz, Berlin and Dartmund among others.

He also flew secret military operations over Holland, Belgium and France.

Several trips were aborted because either a superior canceled a mission or Costage's plane had engine problems.

On the mornings before the missions, he and the crew would typically get up at 4 or 5 a.m.

"They fed us really good breakfasts,'' Costage said. "You didn't know if you were coming back.''

The flights to and from the targets were exhausting, typically six to 91/2 hours.

"My first mission, I was too dumb to be scared,'' Costage said. "On my second mission, (we) flew in formation and a plane on the right wing ... antiaircraft fired at it. It blew up. Then I got scared. I knew some of the people inside.''

He and his crew watched in terror as some parachutes opened and survivors floated toward the ground.

"They said I'm a hero,'' Costage said. "I'm not a hero. The young people who did not make it back are the heroes.''

He doesn't know how many were killed, but he did learn that a few of them ended up in prisoner of war camps.

One time, the B-24 he was flying aboard got hit by Germans who were shooting flak up at his plane from the ground.

"When it hits, it feels like turbulence,'' Costage said. "The shrapnel goes all over.''

One piece of shrapnel hit him in the left heel.

It was his 27th mission.

After World War II ended, Costage served in the Korean War from 1952 to 1953. He was elevated to the rank of captain and served as a medical officer.

That's when he saw blood.

"When you were flying, you saw the destruction,'' he said. "In Korea, I saw the human results.''

He met his wife, Nancy, after his war career ended. The couple married in 1955 and Costage became a firefighter.

"It took my wife two wars to catch me and I got the best deal,'' he said.

At the end of Wednesday's ceremony at the mobile home community, Nancy Costage, 79, began to shed tears.

"He's not wearing (the medal) for himself,'' she said. "He's wearing it for all his buddies that were lost.''

Eileen Schulte can be reached at or (727) 445-4153.

World War II gunner receives Distinguished Flying Cross 05/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2008 4:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jones: Steve Yzerman's plan for getting the Lighting back into the playoffs

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — Seems like forever since the Lightning played a hockey game.

    If the Lightning season started right now, would Steve Yzerman be happy with what he has? "We're still a couple of players short,'' Yzerman said.. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  2. Guilty plea for WellCare Health Plans former counsel Thaddeus Bereday


    Former WellCare Health Plans general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District …

    WellCare Health Plans former general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida stated Wednesday. [LinkedIn handout]
  3. Does St. Pete's police chief need to live in St. Pete? Rick Baker thinks so (Chief Holloway lives in Belleair)


    Last night’s mayoral throwdown between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker got nasty enough that the moderator and some members of a packed, sweaty audience at Midtown’s Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church told the two leading candidates to cool it.

    Chief Tony Holloway's residence in North County has become part of the mayor's race in St. Petersburg
  4. Editorial: Hillsborough commissioners should revisit vote on Confederate monument


    It should be clear to those on both sides of the Hillsborough County Commission's decision to keep a Confederate memorial in place that the commission's so-called compromise doesn't work. The dignified protest outside the memorial on Tuesday reaffirms that the pain from this history isn't going away, and the commission …

  5. Protesters, politicians urge Rubio to vote no on Senate health care plan


    TAMPA -- Even as experts struggle to grasp the cost and impact of the latest proposed replacement bill for Obamacare, Tampa resident Delores Grayson knows this much: "My medication is very important, and if they pass something I can't afford I might as well be dead."

    Florida Rep. Sean Shaw, joined community leaders gathered at the Mi Familia Vota Office on West Waters Avenue on Wednesday to urge Sen. Marco Rubio to vote against the Senate's health care repeal bill. [Times | Anastasia Dawson]