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Montana veteran celebrates 100th birthday in childhood home

George Wallis
Posted at 11:52 AM, Dec 14, 2020

BILLINGS — It’s been said that age is just a number -- but when that number reaches 100, it’s still a pretty big deal.

You would never guess that George Wallis is that old when you first meet him.

“That pile is from the 446th Bomb Crew and that pile is from family,” he says pointing to stacks of cards that he received congratulating him on his recent milestone of becoming a centenarian.

George still lives in the historic Victorian on Clark Avenue that was built by his grandfather, ID O’Donnell, in 1905.

”I often think about my Grandfather and what he would have been amazed about. I think the thing that would have amazed him the most would be all the paved roads,” George tells me.

At the age of 100, George is not only the oldest guy on the block-- he’s also the most popular.

“When we moved in this neighborhood about 10 years ago, I met George and it took me maybe one or two minutes to fall in love with him,” says neighbor Gina Broth.

On George’s 100th birthday, he also received a call from Montana State Football Coach Jeff Choate.

George played some football at Montana State -- mainly to get some exercise he says, but he lettered and even caught a touchdown pass in the Bobcats opening game of the 1941 college football season.

“Shube Dyche Played football from a short punt formation in ran the ball up the middle every time. We didn't throw the ball very much, so I made some good friends,” he says.

It was the last football team that Montana State would field until 1945 because of what would happen just days after that season ended -- the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

“The level of divisiveness that existed during World War II was zero,” George says.

Like most men his age at the time, George was soon a part of the war effort. He was first assigned to an office job but found that uninspiring.

So, he signed up for pilot training -- a decision he admits he was having second thoughts about on his first combat mission over Hamburg Germany.

“And we turn down the bomb run and I’m seeing up ahead a huge cloud -- just solid black. And I say to the pilot what’s that? 'Flak.' And I started having second thoughts right away -- why did I leave that engineering job at Wright Field in Dayton Ohio to do this?" he chuckled.

George would fly 21 combat missions and was honored with a Distinguished Flying Cross.

While George made it home, many of his friends did not -- at least 11 of his former teammates on the Montana State football team were killed in action.

His proudest moments would come after the war, "I’d say my greatest accomplishment is my family.”

He and his wife Jean spent more than seven decades together before she passed away in 2016.

“We were married for 73 years which is a pretty good record. We had a wonderful marriage. I don’t think we ever did have had a serious argument. I’d say that’s a pretty good record,” he says.

George had a long career in the oil and gas industry before moving back to Billings for good.

Like the house he lives in, George has stood the test of time.

He stays active. Enjoyed one of his favorites past times, pheasant hunting, until he was 90. He still drives and still works in his yard.

“I mowed my own lawn until the last summer I found that in the heat of the day that mowing wasn’t feeling too good. So, I got a guy up the street to mow it but this fall I got back to mowing it myself again,” he says.

At his age, George has outlived many of his old friends but he is still making new ones along the way -- living life to the fullest one day at a time in the house where his long story began.

“I feel right at home here. I don’t want to leave here. The day I leave here will really be the last day of my life. it’s a great life. No complaints.”