George was born Jan. 11, 1922 in East Los Angeles, Calif., to George “Sam” and Ida Likich Dabich. George’s father owned the Machado, a ranch in Clovis, Calif. In 1924, due to financial conditions, the family moved to Alberhill, Calif. George worked during the school years and in summer as a cowboy making $30 per month. In 1940 George graduated from high school in Lake Elsinore, Calif.
In 1942, George joined the U.S. Navy. After boot camp, he was assigned to the USS Brooks. His first tour was in a little-known chain of Pacific Islands, the Aleutians. On Dec. 1, 1942, the USS Brooks was re-classified to APD-10 and assigned to the South Pacific. On Jan. 6, 1943, a Japanese kamikaze struck the Brooks’ port side, starting a fire amidship. George was on the starboard side when the plane struck. He was blown into the sea until he was rescued. He and other survivors were later transferred to the USS Hovey. Within 24 hours, the USS Hovey also was hit by a Japanese kamikaze and sunk. For the next eight hours, George was in the sea, which was filled with oil and gasoline and caused him to lose partial eyesight. He was eventually picked up by the USS California. George was listed MIA for several months. He ran into some of his shipmates in the Philippines who told him to “call home, your parents think you died.” In October 1945, George was honorably discharged from the Navy with a Purple Heart.
After returning to California in 1945 with little work to be found, he and his friend “Johnny the Sap,” who was from Wyoming, took off to Jackson, Wyo., in 1946 looking for work. From there the two moved to Cooke City, Mont., to wrangle but the job fell through, so he decided to move to Cody. George fell in love with the town, the area and the state of Wyoming.
For the next several years, George worked full-time as a guide and off-season he worked part-time as a bartender at the Wonder Bar. George remembered the Wonder Bar as “one rough and wild place!”
In 1958, George met the love of his life, Pearl McClain Hartwig, who was a waitress at the Mayflower café, which was next door to the Wonder Bar. On Nov. 9, 1959, George and Pearl were married and he also became father to Stevan and David Hartwig.
When he was injured in a hunting accident and laid up for two years, he took up sketching and painting. It was at this time he met Junior Kousoulous, and became close friends. It was also around this time when George found out that Junior had been taking his art out of the garbage, as Junior thought he could sell it; George never thought his artwork was “good enough’” to sell. Junior sold a piece of art to the governor of Wyoming, Milward Simpson for $60. The early artwork Junior sold still hangs in the Simpson family cabin. A true western artist was born!
For the remaining years of his life, George worked as an artist in Cody and sold his artwork all over the United States. He also loved to hunt, fish and look for arrowheads; anywhere outdoors was where he loved to be.
He was known and loved by many people over his lifetime and will be greatly missed by all.
George was preceded in death by his wife, Pearl, parents and one brother.
He is survived by his children Steve (Lynda) of Cody; Dave of Great Falls, Mont.; grandchildren Starlynn and Susie of Cody, Jennifer of San Diego, Calif., John of Sheridan and Sam of Dana Point, Calif.; four great-grandchildren and two nieces in Arkansas.
A memorial service in George’s honor will be held Saturday, May 4 at 11 a.m. at the VFW in Cody.
Anyone wishing to can make a donation to the Cody Country Art League in George’s name.
An online guestbook is available at www.ballardfh.com.