Harmonica-playing vet remembered
George John Berg picked up the harmonica when he was 3 years old, and the instrument was at his side for the rest of his life.
"He carried that harmonica religiously," said Mike Mastrangelo, commander of Katy Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9182, where Berg had long been a member. "He was quite good at it, and he lived an amazing life."
Berg, who was 91 when he died on Jan. 15, embraced the Katy community for about 10 years, participating in many activities there while living in Houston and later with his daughter in Sugar Land.
Moving south from his home in Philadelphia, Berg told his family he wanted to get away from snow.
"He lived in the house he had raised us in until he moved to Houston," said his daughter, Patricia "Patty" Berg .
"He loved Katy," she said. "He would make the drive to Katy several times a week for his activities and his meetings. I told him, 'Dad, they have an AARP in Sugar Land, too,' but he wanted to be in Katy."
He was a member of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church and a devoted Catholic, according to his daughter.
He married Peg, who died in 1990, and had five children, who in addition to Patty Berg are George Berg Jr., who lives in Delaware, James Berg in New Jersey, Susan Woodward in Maryland and Barbara Berg in Pennsylvania.
Other than events related to his family, two iconic moments stood out in his life.
Pope Pius XII
In 1934 when Berg was 15, he played in the Philadelphia Harmonica Band, said Mike Warren, adjutant of Katy Post 164 of the American Legion.
"The band had been invited to play for President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his birthday party. George got to play for the president and Eleanor Roosevelt," Warren said.
Then in 1945, Berg was in Italy serving in the Army when the second event occurred.
"He said it was one of the biggest thrills of his life when he was in Rome and got to meet Pope Pius XII, " Mastrangelo said.
"He had all kinds of interesting stories," Warren added.
"George had a lot of memories of North Africa and Italy," Brasell said of Berg's Army service in World War II. "He served in the Army Signal Corps. It was while he was serving in Algiers that he was injured and received the Purple Heart. He was injured by the blast from a German bomb.
He used to say, 'You know, in the movies, when you see a bomb drop and there's always that guy who flies through the air? Well, I was that guy.'"
Berg was the fourth commander of the American Legion post in Katy, where he was a charter member when the post was formed in 2000, Warren said.
"Generally," Warren said, "when you make commander you've already served in several offices. I know George served as vice commander; he was an officer at the American Legion from the very beginning. He was also probably the most popular guy there."
Having served as a senior noncommissioned officer in the Army Air Corps, Berg enjoyed his work for the Katy VFW's Outreach program, which brought veterans into Katy elementary and high schools.
"I think that was the thing he liked the most," Mastrangelo said. "He liked to tell the kids he had served in the war without having fired a shot."
His daughter agreed. "One of the things that made him so happy was going to the schools."
Brasell said that Berg was a popular addition to the school programs, which also included flag ceremonies, and he served with the VFW honor guard, attending funerals of VFW members.
"The week he died, he had already attended three funerals as part of the honor guard," Mastrangelo said, "and met with me for the post's annual audit, which was part of his duties as a trustee."
"He was just a man of tremendous stamina," said Brasell. "He betrayed his years. The day before he died, we were discussing his memories of North Africa."
Berg joined the Army in December 1941, Patty Berg said. "I'm sure it was within a few days of Pearl Harbor. He signed up to be an aerial photographer in the Army Air Corps, but spent four years in the signal corps. He loved photography. And he loved that harmonica.
"He was asked to join Johnny Paleo and the Harmonicats, a group that played on the Ed Sullivan Show and various other places. But that was a touring group and Dad found out they didn't get paid until they got back from touring.
He wondered how he was possibly going to support five kids and his wife like that, so he turned them down," said Patty Berg.
Instead, his daughter said, he spent most of his working life in sheet-metal fabrication and drafting in Philadelphia.
"He was always very active; he was just an awesome guy," she said.
"I remember thinking that I didn't know how my mother would manage if my father died first, but I knew I wouldn't have to worry about my father, because he was always doing something.
"He had a photo at the New York World's Fair in 1964, and there's an art museum somewhere in France that has a couple of his photographs," Patty Berg said.
"My Dad was always doing something. He was a target shooter, and belonged to gun clubs."
Berg had 16 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and three more great-grandchildren "on the way," Patty Berg said.
"He was a remarkable man," she said. "If more people learned to enjoy and experience life the way this man did, they would be better off."