Second Lieutenant George Arthur Treptow

George Treptow, Depauw University yearbook, 1941.
George Treptow, DePauw University yearbook, 1941.

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Insignia of VMF-224,
Insignia of VMF-224, “The Bengals”
NAME:
George Arthur Treptow
NICKNAME: SERVICE NUMBER:
O-009927
HOME OF RECORD:
Chicago, IL
NEXT OF KIN:
Father, Mr. George Treptow
DATE OF BIRTH:
June 23, 1920
ENLISTED:
May 22, 1941
DATE OF DEATH:
October 2, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal VMF-224
(assigned from VMF-121)
Pilot 2Lt. KIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Aircraft crash, believed to be caused by oxygen failure
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Captain
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Presumably buried vicinity of wreck
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.


Birth and Early Life:
George Treptow was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 23, 1920. He was the oldest of George and Agnes Treptow’s three children, and grew up in the Windy City until departing for college. Treptow attended DePauw University with the class of 1941; he was active in his fraternity, Delta Upsilon, and on the football team.

Freshman George Treptow (front row, with ball) with the DePauw University football team.
Freshman George Treptow (front row, with ball) with the DePauw University football team.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Treptow showed an early interest in flying – he earned his civilian’s pilot license while in college – and enlisted in the Navy Reserves in February, 1941. After collecting his diploma from DePauw, Treptow traveled to Corpus Christi, Texas, for flight training. He transferred from the Navy to the Marine Corps in January, 1942.

Wartime Service:
On March 14, 1942, Treptow was awarded his commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve. Like many in his class, he was sent immediately to the California; the unlucky ones went directly to Midway where most were killed, while the more fortunate joined squadrons forming in California or Hawaii. Treptow was one of the fortunate ones to be assigned to VMF-122, based in San Diego. While training stateside wasn’t without its perils – one poor pilot was killed in an aviation crash at the base – it was preferable to being flung headlong at trained Japanese pilots.

Treptow found himself reassigned to VMF-121 that summer, shortly before the squadron deployed to the South Pacific. Upon arrival at Noumea, it was found that most of the squadron’s aircraft were still several days behind on a slower transport. (1) Treptow volunteered to fly ahead; he and four other second lieutenants arrived at Henderson Field on September 25, 1942, for temporary assignment with the Bulldogs (VMF-223) and Bengals (VMF-224) already stationed at “Cactus.” (2) Although new to the Bengals, Treptow was flying in combat within three days, and rated inclusion in a squadron picture taken in late September.

The Bengals on Guadalcanal. George Treptow is at far right in the front row.
The Bengals on Guadalcanal. George Treptow, noticeably less rugged than the rest of the pilots, is at far right in the front row.

The shortage of flyable aircraft at Henderson Field was a serious problem; for most of the campaign, there were more pilots than there were flyable planes. Treptow appears to have been kept off the flying roster; likely this was due to his inexperience in combat and the lack of familiarity he shared with the Bengal pilots–he was, after all, only on temporary duty. Pilots preferred to fly with trusted comrades, and for several days Treptow had to wait on the ground while veteran Marine, Navy, and Army pilots took the serviceable planes on strikes against the enemy.

Date Of Loss:
Henderson Field’s Pagoda sounded the alert shortly after noon on October 2, 1942; within minutes, dozens of aircraft engines were roaring to life, and fighters and bombers alike were rumbling down the airstrip. This was a maximum effort scramble–even the off-duty pilots rushed to find available airplanes, forming up as they could and climbing for altitude.

George Treptow managed to find a patched-together Wildcat that was flyable, jumped into the cockpit, and took off on his own. The main body of the Marine flight was already disappearing into the clouds, so Treptow gunned his engine in hopes of catching up. It was just after 1230.

A short while later, observers from the 5th Marines who had gathered to watch the dogfight, heard the roar of an aircraft engine. They saw a Wildcat, completely out of control, shoot straight down and bore into the ground about 400 yards from their position. A patrol from the 5th found the wreckage, with the pilot’s body still inside, and passed the information on to Henderson Field, where the aviators were frantically searching for no less than six of their comrades. (3)

Navy flier Bill Robb volunteered to go back out with a second patrol, to identify the pilot and destroy the Wildcat’s sensitive equipment. At 1530, Robb and a platoon from the 5th Marines reached the smoldering wreckage. There, still strapped into the cockpit, was 22-year-old George Treptow. Robb made a quick inspection of the aircraft and could find no sign of bullet holes–he concluded that Treptow had died of oxygen failure. (4)

For reasons that were never explained, Treptow’s body was deemed non-recoverable by the Marines of the patrol. They buried him beside the wreckage, which was then set on fire to destroy the valuable IFF equipment. Lt. Robb reported Treptow’s identity back to Henderson Field, yet he was still entered on the rolls as “missing in action.”

George Treptow was finally declared dead on February 19, 1945. He received a posthumous promotion to Captain. In the years between his death and the present, the location of his wreck site and burial have been lost.

Next Of Kin:
Father, Mr. George R. Treptow

Status Of Remains:
Buried on Guadalcanal

Memorial:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
_____
NOTES:
(1) John B. Lundstrom, The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1994), 268.
(2) War Diary, MAG-23 Forward Echelon, page 52.
(3) Lundstrom, page 297.
(4) Lundstrom, page 298, and VF-5 War Diary (August 1 – October 31, 1942) page 18. The older Wildcats were notorious for having oxygen problems; less experienced pilots were particularly vulnerable. The Bengals had previously lost Second Lieutenants Gordon Thompson and Charles Bryans to oxygen issues. Treptow’s aircraft could have been off the regular flight rotation because of problems with the oxygen equipment or, because of his lack of flight time at Cactus, he might have not known the idiosyncrasies of individual Wildcats.

4 thoughts on “Second Lieutenant George Arthur Treptow

  1. George was my grandfather’s cousin and I can’t thank you enough for researching and publishing this page!
    I’m currently doing research on him and was wondering what War Diary, MAG-23 Forward Echelon that you have listed as a source is? Any help would be appreciated.
    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Andrew – I’m glad you found the page!

      To answer your question: Marine Air Group (MAG) 23 was the parent organization of Marine Fighting Squardon (VMF) 223 and 224, with whom Lt. Treptow was flying when his plane crashed. Most units kept daily records of their activities, which were compiled into detailed, official catalogues called War Diaries. If VMF-224 kept one I haven’t seen it, but luckily the scribe for the Air Group did a thorough job, and mentioned Lt. Treptow’s arrival and flight dates.
      You can find this particular diary at http://www.fold3.com. It may require a password to get in; if you don’t want to subscribe there may be a way to get a preview or trial subscription to get the information you need. Since his time in the unit was so short, Lt. Treptow only turns up on a few pages.
      Hope this helps, and good luck with your research – if you have any other questions, please email me at webmaster@ablecompany24.com.

      Cheers,
      Geoffrey

  2. Wow. Right now, I’m sitting with my grandfather, Bill Treptow, who saw this article for the first time today. His brother was George. His family spent countless hours wondering what became of him because George was declared Missing in Action. There are so many questions he’d like to ask. Is it possible to speak sometime? How was his family uninformed all these years?

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