EDITOR’S NOTE: This will be the last in the 2021 series about local veterans. The series starts again on Memorial Day.
LEAVITTSBURG – While George Bartholomew was growing up on Matwich’s Berry Farm in Leavittsburg, the woman he would love struggled with a sister and her war widowed mother in impoverished Bavaria after World War II in Germany.
While Bartholomew was surrounded by farmland where you could pick a snack from a bush, Erika often wondered how her mother kept her and her sister alive. “Where did she pick up the food?” She asked.
Fate, or design, brought them together in 1960s Alabama at Fort McClellan, where Erika quickly learned English when she impressed her superiors with her commitment and organizational skills after making the leap to the United States all by herself come 21.
Meanwhile, George graduated from Leavittsburg High School in 1957 and was in his third year of chemistry at Ohio University when he realized his brain “Was not compatible” with the calculation required to complete the degree. Then came the draft notice and in September 1961 George found himself with the US Army. He stopped at Fort Knox and Fort Hood before heading to Alabama.
Originally trained as a tank crew, after someone in charge discovered his background in chemistry, George was selected to teach other soldiers what to expect during a chemical warfare attack and how to use their equipment to survive.
He would teach defenses against weapons like flamethrowers.
“You don’t have to deal with them anymore” he said.
And PFC Bartholomew would make sure the soldiers knew how to properly wear their gas masks.
He was also part of the horrific crew that many military personnel remember when they met when it was their turn to go through a gas chamber and take off their masks long enough to say their Social Security number.
At that time, the US was still years away from entering the Vietnam War.
“There wasn’t a war to worry about, but there was civil unrest. There was a lot of civil unrest at the time. We were on the alert the whole time “, he said.
Although he participated in exercises and training, he was never called into action as black men and women pushed the country for racial equality and formal recognition of their civil rights.
When both George and Erika were in Alabama, Erika befriended a soldier, a woman she introduced to her brother George.
The two have dated on the grassroots basis, watching movies, going for walks and doing things like bowling, though they don’t like bowling to hang out with.
Erika then took over the payroll for the Pathological Institute of the Armed Forces in the Walter Reed Medical Center, where she “Handled the pay for the people who autopsied Kennedy” said Georg.
The two married in 1963 when George split from the army. He lives in a house near the berry farm and the two raised three children, Greg, Heidi and Tom.
George started trapping and continued his love of running that continues to this day.
Erika worked for years in the Soil Conservation District in Cortland and then as a secretary at schools in Leavittsburg, while George worked as a caretaker for Leavittsburg schools for various now defunct manufacturers in the Mahoning Valley until his retirement.
Erika enchanted George with her gift of giving her Bavarian cuisine the highest flavor and the green thumb that produced beautiful flower gardens that the neighborhood envied her.
When the two were younger, Erika often stayed at home with the children to let George pursue his hobbies – marathons, shooting tournaments, miniature collecting, and various designs of mousetraps. Now that the two of them are getting older, George stays home and gives up his hobbies to take care of Erika.
Now that she has Alzheimer’s, Erika is confused when she stays home alone.
George said he’ll do most of the cooking now, but she’s still seasoning the food.
“She has a great ability to flavor food” he said.
But the two enjoyed traveling all over Europe with their children for many years, visiting old school friends and family and taking them to the USA to show their necks.
BRANCH OF SERVICE: US Army
FAMILY: wife Erika; Children, Greg, Heidi and Tom