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THOSE WHO SERVED: Army veteran leans on lessons learned from Scouting
Ginter wood carvings. File photo
Ginter's wood carvings on display at an area craft fair. - photo by File photo

Editor’s note: If you know a veteran who should be included in this series, please email Mark Swendra.

Native Liberty Countian George Ginter has one word to describe the trait he exemplified as a lifelong Eagle Scout and Army soldier, for more than 20 years:

Loyalty.

“You have to take an oath to be loyal to your supervisors when you go in the Army in order to serve and defend your country,” Ginter said. “I was brought up in the Boy Scouts and that’s one of the Scout laws … that the Scout is loyal.”

Ginter joined the Boy Scouts when he was 12, and three years later, earned the designation of Eagle Scout. After high school, he joined the Army National Guard and later enlisted as a soldier in the Army, deployed twice to Korea and to Vietnam.

Born and raised in Hinesville, Ginter, now 87, reflected on his life of service from his quiet, waterfront home in Midway, near Sunbury, that he shares with Martha Sue, his wife of 66 years. The couple’s two daughters, Beverly Waters and Luanne Smith, both live a short distance away.

We sat in a room filled with Scout memorabilia; merit badges, medals, plaques, trophies and wood carvings. There is a trophy case displaying medals earned during his years in the Army.

Although long since retired from the military, in 1972, Ginter spends his time today still active with the Scouts (once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout, he said) and with his love of wood carving, and membership in Midway United Methodist Church.

Ginter’s military service began in 1950 at Fort Stewart, following in the footsteps of family members. His father, Fred, served in World War I, his brother Fred Jr., was in World War II and Korea, and his brother Richard was also in Korea. The elder Ginter’s military legacy is remembered with the naming of the Fred L. Ginter American Legion Post #168 in Hinesville.

Ginter recalled the day in 1950, when at the age of 19, he was called into active duty and later deployed to Korea.

“It was August, and I was at a barbecue with five couples on Canoochee Creek. We heard that the Korean War started and we were ordered to report back to our National Guard unit immediately,” Ginter said. “I wasn’t expecting it. It was a shock to all of us.”

Soon after, he was sent to Korea, as a motor sergeant, but before leaving, Ginter did what so many other soldiers did when faced with uncertainty and time apart — he married Martha Sue, his childhood sweetheart since the fifth grade.

For someone who had lived in Georgia all of his life, and had never ventured out of the States, Ginter’s introduction to Korea was an eye-opener.

“I thought Korea was a very backwards country,” he said. “I saw oxen that pulled wagons inside a house. I saw a woman washing her clothes in the creek, and a little later the same woman washing off their vegetables in that same creek, preparing dinner,” he added, noting the unsanitary conditions.

In his first deployment, Ginter spent 18 months in Korea. After his initial stint with the National Guard came to an end, he enlisted in the Army. He would return years later to Korea, for 12 months, serving as a warrant officer, automotive maintenance technician. Between those deployments came 12 months in Vietnam and time in the Panama Canal Zone and at Fort Stewart. Ginter retired from the Army as a chief warrant officer.

He said because he was in maintenance, he didn’t see a lot of combat, although some members of his unit were killed by a landmine.

“You never knew where Charley was… they called him Charley,” Ginter said, referring to the enemy. “We were up on the front line. We had bunkers. Had Twin 40 (mm) guns on the tracks. There you are sitting, talking to your buddy, and then all of a sudden here comes some kind of round in there. You jump in the bunker,” he described.

A half-century later, Ginter was able to pay honor to those who sacrificed their lives in war.

In 2014, Ginter and others took part in Honor Flight Savannah, which allowed them to visit the nation’s war memorials in Washington, DC.

At the time, Ginter said he didn’t talk much about what he saw in Vietnam and Korea.

“If I had to give you an answer for the reason we don’t discuss it, it’s because of the fellows we saw go in those body bags,” Ginter said. “That was one of our missions when I went to Vietnam. We had to handle the body bags. You don’t want to talk about it — period — with anybody.”

Although never directly injured during his deployments, Ginter battled problems with a bad leg that eventually led to a desk job assignment in his later military years.

“I admit I had a bad leg when I went to Vietnam (at the age of 38),” Ginter said.  “It was messing up on me. I was falling down all the time.”  

He received treatment for the leg, and while recuperating at a hospital at Camp Drake in Japan, was presented the opportunity to meet other soldiers, many in far worse shape. One in particular stood out.

“There was a young man there who had this much of his leg (pointing to several inches) with pins through it. I asked him what happened. He said he stepped on a mine and it broke his leg. It didn’t pull it off or anything, just broke his leg.”

Ginter said the soldier’s leg was initially put in a cast, but got gangrene, and part of the leg had to be amputated. Upon talking further, Ginter discovered that the two had something in common.

“I said I know you’re a Southern boy, tell me where you’re from,” Ginter asked. “He said, I’ll tell you, but you don’t know where it is. I said try me.

“He said I’m from Jesup, Georgia. I said hush your mouth boy, I was your next door neighbor. I’m from Hinesville.”

Ginter said the two bonded over this shared experience, and they spent a lot of time visiting each other while there.

Ironically, Ginter would experience his own life-threatening battle with one of his limbs, but it would occur years later in retirement.

In 2005 he nearly lost his left arm to necrotizing fasciitis — flesh-eating bacteria.

It happened while Ginter was in his yard trimming azaleas, he said.

“I had cut several pieces and I got a small scratch. It was bleeding, but not a lot, so I wiped it on my pants,” he said. The next morning Ginter headed for church and his wife noticed that his hand was swollen and discolored. “It was black and blue and green and yellow. There was a blister all the way around it,” he said.

“I went to the emergency room at Fort Stewart, got a shot and antibiotics, but the next morning it was halfway up my arm. I had surgery immediately to try to save the arm.”

The arm was saved, but most of the skin and flesh were removed, he said. Ginter spent nearly two months in the hospital.

As he recalled his life experiences, and his 22-year military career, Ginter made it clear that everything leads back to his start with Scouting.

“Scouting gave me such a foundation in life,” Ginter said. “I sort of breezed right through basic training, except for having to shoot a rifle. I knew how to use and sharpen a knife, how to read a map and compass and how to make a fire. I had a lot of experience hiking and camping, too.”

This past February, Ginter completed 75 years of active scouting, he proudly said. As a member at large, “They can call on me to help in many ways.”

He wants to be remembered for his time with the Scouts and what it has meant to him.

“I won’t live long enough to pay back to Scouting what they, and the foundation gave me in life.”

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