Longtime Roseburg resident, George Robert Insley, died peacefully Friday at the age of 99 years. George was a WWII veteran who piloted B-24s over Europe. This life transforming experience, a passion for assisting others and a love of Jesus combined in his work with Wycliffe Bible Translators as a bush pilot in Peru and Brazil from 1950 to 1985.
George heard the announcement about Pearl Harbor and volunteered for the US Army Air Corps, where he learned to fly at the age of 19. After his training, he flew two tours of duty in the Army 8th Air Corps in Shipdham England, flying 52 missions in B-24 bombers in the 44th Bomb Group. He quickly advanced to captain and became Command Pilot leading the formations.
His third mission was deep into Germany against heavily defended Berlin. The crews of the 8th Air Force were taking heavy losses on each mission and he knew his chances of seeing the end of the war were slim. In the dark of the morning while preparing for this mission, he revisited the faith his mother had taught him and he asked Jesus to become his Savior. After that he was at peace with the constant danger.
As a formation leader, George experimented with subtle tactics to outwit the anti-aircraft guns and fighters. Prior to entering the bomb run where they had to fly perfectly straight, he would have the bombardier spot the flash from the gun batteries ahead and report the altitude of the explosions. He would then make small altitude adjustments to the formation to confuse the gunners. During fighter attacks he would make similar height adjustments within the formation to confuse their split-second timing.
Aware of the high loss rate of airplanes experienced during missions, George always carried a pair of Oregon cork logging boots to improve his chances of escape in the event of surviving being shot down. Despite being a primary target as a lead plane, his aircraft was never hit by fighters and had only minor shrapnel damage from “flak”. When the 29 missions required for the first tour were done, the war was over for George and his crew. They had beaten the odds and survived. They would be returned to the United States to train new crews. George felt he could better use his experience in England, and signed up for a second tour. His entire crew then signed up to return with him, even though the odds of survival were low. Perhaps it was better to be together as a crew with the known dangers along with George and his “lucky” cork boots, than the possible uncertain future should the Air Corps change its mind and start sending experienced crews back into combat with inexperienced pilots.
The Air Corp awarded George with three Distinguished Flying Cross medals and the Air Medal with 10 oak leaf clusters. The entire 44th Bomb Group also received two unit citations. Many years later the French consul general presented him with the French Chevalier de la Legion D’Honneur (the Legion of Honor) award for his leadership and efforts in freeing France. He completed his service in 1949.
George stayed in the Air Corps under the Strategic Air Command until shortly before the Korean War. At that point, he discovered his true calling and volunteered in 1950 to fly for Wycliffe Bible Translators in in Peru and Brazil. He found that he could be of service to God by flying linguists into remote locations where they could learn unwritten languages. He felt that hearing and reading God’s words in your own language spoke much more strongly to you than hearing it in a secondary language learned for trade. He spent the next 40 years flying people and equipment in small planes into unimproved airstrips hacked from the jungle, narrow rocky mountain streams, jungle lakes or rivers. On one occasion he lost a cylinder head on a Norseman float plane as he was crossing over deep swampy jungle. He nursed the plane to the next river where he floated downstream to the next town. On another occasion he calmly coached a fellow pilot into keeping a failing engine running long enough that he could locate him and follow him towards a narrow river where they made an emergency landing.
Always a calm, relaxed and an unflappable pilot, George had precision and a delicate touch in the unexpected situations he often encountered in the jungle and on the rough field airstrips. He always attributed these to the skills needed in landing heavy bombers during WWII.
George never met a stranger without welcoming them. He always had time to help others by doing thoughtful things. He had a big smile and friendship for everyone. This smile was what attracted Jeanne when she first traveled to work in Peru. Eventually they began to date. Her coworkers were puzzled at how often George seemed to be the only pilot who flew to the remote location where she was stationed. They later were married in Peru and moved to Brazil to raise their family.
After leaving Brazil in in 1985, George returned to the family home in Roseburg. He operated a small farm and Insley’s Greenhouse until 2005. George was also active in the 44th Bomb Group Veterans Association. He attended most of the reunions and was always approachable and friendly. He made a point of helping family members of veterans understand what their father or grandfather went through during WW-II.
George Robert Insley was born April 25, 1922 and died July 16, 2021 in the same Roseburg farm house he was born in. He lived 99 years. He is survived by his wife Jeanne “Forrer” Insley to whom he was married for 63 years and three children. Jim (spouse Toni) Insley, Johanna (spouse Joe) Hubbard, and Tina (spouse Gary) Price. His four siblings, Stanley, Lewis, Theodore, and Wyllys have all passed. He has nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
His grandchildren are Seth, Matthew, Katie, and Jonathan Insley; Douglas, Hans (spouse Amber), and Clarissa Hubbard; James and Ted Green. His great-grandchildren are Landyn, Addison, and Emma Hubbard; and Ezra and Ezekiel Findlay.
A graveside service will be performed July 27, 2021, at 11AM at the VA’s new addition of the Roseburg National Cemetery, Roseburg, Oregon.
A Celebration of Life will be held on October 9, 2021, at 2PM at Wellspring Bible Fellowship, 2245 NW Kline St, Roseburg, Oregon.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Portland/Vancouver VA Fisher House or a Memorial gift for George Insley at JAARS (Jungle Aviation and Radio Service) to aviation in Memorial George Insley.