War Hero to Golf Hero

Aside from his lengthy employment with the United States Postal Service, most people who know him identify George Ivanoff as an accomplished amateur golfer and decorated World War II veteran. The latter experience is one that the 90-year-old Harrisburg man has been reluctant to discuss but recently honored a request to do so.

Like millions of teenagers during the war, Ivanoff dropped out of school to enlist; in his case, with the Marines. He did basic at Parris Island in 1943, then moved on to North Carolina and San Diego for further training before being shipped to the Pacific Island of Pavuvu. From there, he was part of the First Marine Division’s hellish invasion of Peleliu in 1944.

“I was on a patrol when we were ambushed,” recalls Ivanoff. “We were pinned down but eventually retreated, carrying our casualties on makeshift stretchers. An artillery shell exploded nearby, and I was thrown into the air. I managed to get medical attention and then was sent to a hospital in the Admiralty Islands. That’s when I received my first Purple Heart. Had shrapnel in my chest. It’s still there.”

Three months later, Ivanoff was back with his outfit training for the assault on Okinawa, which commenced in April 1945.

“There was no resistance when we landed,” he says, “and we rolled across the island to its western shore on the East China Sea. I hadn’t bathed in a long time, so I plunged into the surf.”

But this idyllic interlude could not last. Soon, he was fighting entrenched Japanese defenders and earned his second Purple Heart.

“I dived into a shell hole and peered over its edge,” says Ivanoff. “At that moment, I was shot in the face. The bullet entered my right cheek and exited the left, taking out teeth and leaving me deaf in one ear. I felt this big hole in my left cheek and thought I was going to die. I lied down and asked God to forgive me of my sins and then passed out. I awoke sometime later, and it was all quiet. I was able to get help and was flown to Guam and eventually sent to the Navy hospital in San Diego. My mouth had to be wired shut for some time, and plastic surgery was performed. I spent about 10 months recovering before discharge.”

Upon returning home, Ivanoff finished high school at Harrisburg Catholic and subsequently began to work for the Post Office.

While a teen, he had been introduced to golf by caddying at old Waring’s Golf Course. “I was paid 25 cents to caddy for nine holes, and 40 for 18,” he remembers. Ivanoff resumed playing the game and, at one point, carried a two handicap.

He is the oldest and longest-tenured member (67 years) of Colonial Country Club. Of the many local titles he copped, the most memorable is perhaps the 1968 Harrisburg District Championship.

“I was the low amateur,” he says, “and tied Colonial pro Phil Bankert in the pro division.”

The years seem to have had little effect on his game or his health. He takes no meds. And, in a feat that he has accomplished countless times, Ivanoff continues to shoot below his age, often in the 70s.

“I play three or four times a week,” he says. “Last season, I carded my fourth ace, this one on the 16th hole at Blue Ridge. I also go to the Central Penn [Health &] Fitness Center three days a week.”

Obviously blessed with a strong birthright, the svelte senior personifies the maxim, “You’re never too old to…”