George Atcheson

(1923 - 2011)

Underwater Demolition TEAM THREE

George Atcheson


I was born in Beijing in 1923 where my father was studying Chinese in preparation for a career in the diplomatic service. My parents had met when my mother passed through there as a tourist in 1921. I spent most of my young boyhood in various Chinese cities until I was sixteen, when my father was ordered to the State Department. By that time, 1939, all of North China was occupied by the Japanese Army. Although seldom bothered ourselves, we had front row seats on a very brutal army behaving at its worst. Even so, Beijing remained one of the world’s most beautiful and charming cities…for foreigners.

After high school in Washington, I spent a semester at Berkeley before joining the Navy in 1943 as an aviation cadet. After some vicissitudes I emerged as an ensign and aerial navigator in 1945. In 1947 I applied for a Regular Navy commission and was accepted. After a year of destroyer duty in the Atlantic, I applied for Underwater Demolition duty and was assigned to UDT 3 in Coronado. When the Korean War started, I happened to be in Japan with a 10 man unit. We joined UDT I upon its arrival and participated in a series of demolition raids and beach recons on both the Korean coasts. After Inchon I was sent to Japan to participate in the training of Escape and Evasion units under the aegis of the CIA. In 1951, after another sojourn in destroyers, I was again assigned to a CIA clandestine program. My part involved recon swimming, demolitions, and small unit tactics, about which I knew almost nothing. Nevertheless, we formed Special Missions Group of about 30 men. They were all North Koreans who had fled south at the time of the initial NK attack, and been recruited by a South Korean Army captain, who was himself then recruited by the Agency. It was from this cadre of highly motivated North Koreans that the E and E and SMG volunteers were drawn. Over time I took part in a dozen or so SMG landings.

Soon after Korean armistice talks began, SMG and other UN operations were discontinued. I was reassigned - the Korean cadre, among whom I had formed many fast friends, was disbanded. I enjoyed a couple of years ashore returning to destroyers. But my long period of independent duty had spoiled me and I decided that my 13 years in the Navy were enough.

Being unmarried and without responsibility, I was free to indulge an old hankering to go sailing. After seeing something of the two great oceans, another fellow and I sailed my ancient 40 foot yawl to the Virgin Islands. There I sold my boat -  said to be the second happiest day in every boat owner’s life – and managed in the next six years to pick up some of the rudiments of construction carpentry.

Soon after returning to Los Angeles, fortune smiled on me again, and I met Claire who consented to marry me. And we have been here ever since, with me working as a building contractor and Claire as a journalist. Not long after we both retired about fifteen years ago, my legendary good luck brought me once again into contact with Captain Lefteris Lavrakas, in whose fine APD I had the good fortune to sail for a number of operations in the Korean War.

George Atcheson

(Note: George Atcheson passed away on September 1, 2011, at his home in Santa Monica, CA. He was born April 16, 1923 in China of U. S. Diplomat parents. He wrote a book “The Peking Incident,” published in 1973, about his experiences during the Japanese invasion of China. George was an officer in Underwater Demolition Team THREE during the Korean War. He is survived by his wife, Claire.)

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