Obituary: George Economos, POW and scientist, dies at 92

George Economos, who survived a year-long incarceration in the infamous German prison camp Stalag 17B during World War II and later worked as a staff scientist at the National Academy of Sciences for 15 years, died June 30 at his home in Bethesda. He was 92.

He had cardiorespiratory failure, said his daughter, Gayle V. Economos.

The son of Greek immigrants, George Economos was born Aug. 22, 1919, in Haverhill, Mass. He joined the Army Air Forces shortly before the United States entered World War II and served in Europe as a top gunner and flight engineer on a B-17 “Flying Fortress.”

During a flight in April 1944, Dr. Economos’s plane was shot down near Munich. He was captured by the German military and taken to Stalag 17B, a prisoner of war camp near Krems, Austria. Upon his liberation in 1945, after a 29-day march, Dr. Economos weighed less than 100 pounds, his daughter said.

The prison camp became part of popular memory of World War II after the release of Billy Wilder’s 1953 film “Stalag 17” starring William Holden and Otto Preminger. The film was adapted from a play by two former prisoners, Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski.

After the war, Dr. Economos received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Northeastern University in Boston in 1949. He received a master’s degree in ceramics in 1951 and a doctoral degree in materials science in 1954, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He taught materials science at MIT and was a scientific consultant in Milwaukee before settling in the Washington area in 1977. Dr. Economos was appointed staff scientist to the National Materials Advisory Board at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, where he remained until his retirement in 1992. He was among the leading experts who prepared “Preservation of Historical Records,” a 1986 text with recommendations for the National Archives.

His memberships included the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Stalag XVIIB-American Ex-Prisoners of War Association. Dr. Economos belonged for more than three decades to the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George in Bethesda.

Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Bessie Kasida “Kassie” Economos of Bethesda; two children, Gayle V. Economos of Baltimore and James W. Economos of Huntington Beach, Calif.; a sister; and three grandchildren.

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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