George B. Skinner
Lieutenant Colonel – US Army, Army Corps of Engineers
Korean & Vietnam Wars (1951-1972)
George B. Skinner was born in the small town of Monroe, Virginia on May 18, 1927. His mother was a homemaker and his father was a career military man in the Army Air Forces. He flew balloons and dirigibles during his career. Due to the fact that Mr. Skinner’s father was in the Army Air Forces, Mr. Skinner lived all over the world growing up. In 1929, at the age of two, his father was transferred to the Philippines. He lived there for two years, followed by a short time in China. From their Mr. Skinner and his family returned to the United States, as his father was now being stationed in Aberdeen Maryland, at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, which was an Army ordinance base. Mr. Skinner recalls that the school was nearly four miles away from the post they were living on, so he traveled to school by train. Although he completed grade school in Maryland, the family soon found themselves on the move again, this time to Washington DC. He finished high school in Washington DC, as well as attended the Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Virginia while his father was stationed overseas during WWII. His father was stationed in the Pacific in the Philippians as well as the Atlantic in England. Mr. Skinner recalls that he was a missile expert. Mr. Skinner’s father was credited with helping to develop the bazooka rocket, which is a shoulder fired missile. His group developed this rocket on their own as they didn’t have a budget back then for new developments. The bazooka was instrumental in helping to defeat the Germans in Africa.
After attending the Fishburne Military Academy, Mr. Skinner and his family moved to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He attended Kansas University where he enrolled in Army ROTC. In 1951, Mr. Skinner graduated from Kansas University as a distinguished military graduate from ROTC. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army, specializing in anti-aircraft artillery. He attended ROTC summer camp at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. He then transferred to the Army Corp of Engineers. He married his sweetheart, Anita, and they began their military life. In late 1951, about 3 months after they were married, he returned to active duty and was ordered to Korea. Basic officer training was conducted at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia and lasted 4 months. Mr. Skinner was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, which was an old WWII Army base. His job was training engineer troops. In March 1952, he arrived in Korea where he would spend the next year in the Army Engineer Combat Battalion. His job was to clear mines and build roads and bridges. From Korea he reported directly to Japan, and began work with the Army Depot. He was supporting the engineers with the same supplies that he had been receiving in Korea. Supplies included barb wire, bridge making and construction material. Having been without his family for over a year, he was excited when his wife Anita joined him in Japan with their son, who was nearly 2 years old. They arrived in Japan after transiting the Pacific ocean on an Army transport ship from Ft. Baker. The journey took them 20 days. They lived in Japan for a year, welcoming a baby girl to their family along the way. Mr. Skinner remembers that the Army gave him a week of leave while his daughter was born. He recalls, “they didn’t give you much leeway in those days. You were in the Army, so you took orders.”
Their next assignment took them back to the states, where Mr. Skinner was stationed in St. Louis, Missouri for the next four years. He had two jobs while stationed in St. Louis. The first was management of engineer materials. It was at the largest computing center the Army had. He recalls that the computers were 4 floors high! Nothing like the desk tops of today. He then took a job at the Army Engineer district in St. Louis which handled military and civil works construction. Here they managed the Mississippi and Missouri River and all their dams and operations. They also managed levees as well as built them. Two years later he was sent to advanced engineer training at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. Mr. Skinner had risen to the rank of Captain. A year later the Army sent Mr. Skinner to New York University to obtain a master in Industrial Engineering. Armed with his new degree, the family once again moved, this time to Germany where they lived for three years. He remembers Germany as being a nice assignment. He and his family lived on a post in Germany, and were given a very nice apartment to live in. It was fully furnished and their children went to school right on the post. It was during the Cold War, so he was on alert all the time. His unit managed the engineering supply and maintenance organizations throughout Germany.
In 1963, Mr. Skinner and his family returned to the United States and were stationed in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He was managing a chemical arsenal. Two years later he was ordered to Vietnam. He arrived in Vietnam at the beginning of the war, working on base development. At the time of his arrival, there were approximately 40,000 American troops in Vietnam. His group and he developed bases throughout Vietnam for future use. Approximately a year later, in 1964, Mr. Skinner received orders to return to the United States. The number of US troops in Vietnam had risen to over 365,000. He returned to St. Belvoir in 1965 and worked in the development of engineer equipment. Two years later, he found himself in Sacramento, California at the Engineer district. He worked at the Sacramento Engineer District from 1966-1968. His job was once again working on the rivers. They were responsible for engineering construction on the rivers in California. One of his biggest projects was building a new hospital at the Presidio in San Francisco. The Vietnam War was still in full swing, so once again Mr. Skinner was ordered to Vietnam. He spent two years in Vietnam, at an engineering combat command outside of Saigon. In Saigon he lived at a hotel that was protected by a barrier. Following his second Vietnam tour, he returned to Sacramento where he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. During his service he was awarded the Legion of Merit, four bronze stars, Vietnam Service Medal and the Korean Service Medal, and the Navy Commendation medal for the work he did building a run way in Korea so their planes could land at a nearby hospital.
He had three children in college, so he quickly turned his sites to finding a new career. He went to work for Safeway stores working in industrial production facilities which included meat plants, bakeries, and warehouses. He was headquartered in Oakland, California but found himself traveling quite a bit throughout the United States and Canada. He retired in 1990 from Safeway, and settled into retirement. Mr. Skinner calculates that he moved 19 times in 23 years!!
Reflecting on his service in the Army, Mr. Skinner remembers a funny experience when sailing from Seattle to Korea in 1952. When a ship crosses the international date line, there is a ceremony that usually happens when you cross over. He remembers everyone on the crew being dressed up, and he was dressed as a baby because he was the shortest on the ship. They put on quite a show, and were given certificates indicating they had crossed the international date line. There were so many sailors crammed on the ship that the officers slept in one room, on bunks that were four deep and four high on each side, holding 32 men in one room. He remembers his fellow officers and shipmates as being well disciplined and good leaders.
When recalling his military service a few items came to mind. Not knowing what could happen in a combat situation can be an unsettling experience. His job of clearing mines on the border of Korea was an experience that was difficult and scary because “you didn’t know where they were.” The toughest part of his experience was leaving his family behind on so many of his tours. It is tough on the military member and tough on the family. Moving every two years to a new house was a difficulty of living the life of a military family.
Mr. Skinner believes that most military people who were in the service, whether they stayed in or got out, had great jobs where they learned a lot. According to him , “It is a privilege to be under the command of someone in the military and watch over your country. If we didn’t do it, something could have happen back home. I was just a “squirt”, standing only 5’5″ tall, but they accepted me, and I came out as a lieutenant colonel!” He added, “Very good retirement pay and good benefits. Medical care is great!” Mr. Skinner was proud of his service to the United States.
Interview by Nick Langevin on October 21, 2012.