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"He died the death of a true hero and we know that he did not flinch from danger even when the odds were against him"
- Savannah Morning News, December 14, 1941
This exhibit, comprised of digitized materials from the George Karam Gannam papers (PDF) held by the City of Savannah Research Library and Municipal Archives, celebrates George Gannam’s life and military service on the 75th Anniversary of the Attacks on Pearl Harbor.
Born in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1919 to Lebanese parents, George Karam Gannam moved with his family to Savannah early in life. After graduating from Benedictine Military School, George enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in 1939 with aspirations of becoming a flight cadet. He was later stationed at Wheeler Field in Hawaii where he was a radio operator. When the attacks on Pearl Harbor happened on December 7, 1941, Staff Sergeant Gannam was among the casualties, becoming Savannah’s first victim of World War II.
Photo of the Gannam family
George is second from the left in the top row.
George Gannam graduated from Benedictine Military School, a Catholic school in Savannah, in 1938. During his time there he played an important role in establishing the school's publication, The Campus Quill, and served as editor during his senior year. Click here to read an edition of The Campus Quill.
George's ties to the Catholic Church in Savannah would continue to be important to him throughout his life and military career.
Shortly after his graduation from Benedictine, Gannam enlisted in the US Army Air Corps. He was first stationed at Fort Moultrie in South Carolina, before boarding the USAT Leonard Wood for Hawaii. En route to Hawaii, the ship passed through the Panama Canal and stopped over in San Francisco. Once there, Gannam was stationed at Wheeler Field where he was a radio operator. He was rapidly promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant. At the time of his death, George had been accepted to be an Army Aviation Cadet.
View a slide show of pictures from Gannam's military service.
Read the USAT Leonard Wood newsletter, The Breeze
George's personal camera In addition to his military service, George Gannam was an amateur photographer.
He took many portraits of himself and friends, and captured images of the light and fun side of life in Hawaii.
View some of George's personal photography.
After his death, Gannam's personal belongings, including the contents of his footlocker, were returned to his family. Among these items were his camera, snapshots and negatives, personal grooming items, his baseball glove, even his bathing suit. Together these paint a picture of the life of a young soldier and the last few months of George's life.
View a gallery of Gannam's personal belongings.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, George Gannam was on duty at Hickam Field. According to official reports, he was running to save aircraft from being destroyed when he was hit with shrapnel and machine gun fire.
George Gannam lost his life that day, at the age of 22.
Gannam was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the American Defense Service Medal.
George's Flag Ceremony This tragedy represented the City of Savannah's first loss of World War II. To commemorate one of their own, Benedictine School held a flag ceremony during which Cadets and members of the Gannam family raised George's flag near the family home. A memorial service was held at Sacred Heart Church, attended by Benedictine Cadets, community members, and the Gannam family.
See more images from George's Memorial Services.
On the first anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1942, the City of Savannah honored all of the local citizens who had been killed in the war. George Gannam was specially honored as Savannah's "First Hero of War". A photo montage of him, donated by Benedictine, was unveiled and a flag was presented to the Gannam family.
Flag presented to the Gannam family by the City
The Gannam family assembled a scrapbook in memory of George, including photographs, news clippings, official documentation, and letters of condolence. Look through the scrapbook.
On November 22, 2016, a Proclamation will be read in front of City Council declaring December 7, 2016 George K. Gannam Day.
To learn more about the George K. Gannam papers, view the collection finding aid.