Vietnam veteran proudly walked and served his country

July 16, 2018

George Hutchinson is a Huntington native who spent his childhood walking the city's streets. He is a retired Air Force Veteran who had been stationed at Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam.

George Hutchinson has memories of eating freshly made chocolate eclairs from Price’s Bakery, once located along 20th street & Artisan Ave. According to him, they were to die for. He remembers the day at Camden Park he got covered with axle grease slipping as he stepped out of the ride called “The Whip.” And those magnificent high school band parades right through the center of town — who could ever forget them? But the most memorable semi accomplishment of his childhood had to be the hot summer day, along with a couple of his buddies, when they decided to swim across the Ohio River simply because they had nothing better to do.

Hutchinson was born in August of 1947 at St. Mary’s Hospital. His father worked for Smoot Advertising with his uncle and half-brother where they placed advertising signs on billboards. The dangerous labor intensified the job, which required strong knees for climbing ladders every day.

“I grew up in Huntington’s east end,” said Hutchinson. “We walked the railroad tracks to the Guyandotte pool when we didn’t go swimming in the river. A neighborhood friend, Francis Jarvis who had his driver’s license, would sometimes borrow his father’s car and take everyone who wanted to go to Dreamland Pool in Kenova.

When they couldn’t make it to Kenova, there was always the Ohio River to swim in —if they dared.

“Along with a few of my friends we tried to swim across the Ohio River but panicked once we got out in the barge traffic lane. We turned around and were most happy to get back, even if the current did take us a few hundred feet downstream.,” Hutchinson said.

But it wasn’t all fun and games for this hard worker.

“I did start working part time when I was around 12 at Roy’s Food Market along 4th Avenue. I started out organizing pop bottles together in cartons by brand name. Later on, I began stocking shelves.”

Hutchinson’s memory of things past made interviewing this senior citizens unique and interesting. Memories like McCrory’s 5 and 10 lunch counter with their blue plate specials. Saturday matinees at the Park Theater along 20th street, decorating the Christmas tree with bubble lights and the neighborhood horseshoe contests on weekends during

the summer. There was his Roy Rogers twin holster and cap gun set for Christmas and their pet dog named Queenie. Odd name for a male dog, but his mother named him and no one ever questioned it.

“A child in today’s neighborhood with a BB gun would bring half the police force and a swat team,” said Hutchinson. “I had one with a telescope and shot birds in the back yard, even carried it down the sidewalk. I also had a hand me down girl’s bicycle that I was happy to ride. Then there were those all-night fishing trips with Dad to the river, he loved catfish.”

Hutchinson walked through the seasons to Highlawn elementary which took him 10-20 minutes. It took longer in the winter because of snowball fights. He does recall a special teacher he thought quite a lot about because of the extra time she spent with him, helping mentor when the schoolwork got hard. Enslow Junior High lasted for three years, the football team lasted considerably less because it took him away from making money at Roy’s Market.

“My walking to school continued when I began attending Enslow but it didn’t take quite as long to get there,” said Hutchinson. “Mr. Freeman was our gym teacher. He had been a great basketball player at Marshall. When he shot that basketball it seldom missed. Lunch time to me meant only one thing, hotdogs at Highlawn Pharmacy across the street and those delicious fountain cokes.”

Hutchinson was a 1965 graduate of Huntington East High School. Twelve years of public education and he never rode a school bus. Because his older brother had served in the military, he felt obligated to do the same. He said it just seemed like the right thing to do. Shortly after graduation he enlisted in the Air Force. He followed in the footsteps of thousands of other veterans who were inducted into the military at the Ventura Hotel in Ashland. After processing through a physical, swearing in and testing, he was off to Texas and Lackland Air Force Base for basic training.

“After boot camp I was sent to Langley Air Force Base where I was trained to be a Military policeman,” said Hutchinson. “I stayed there for a little more than two years.”

Hutchinson came home to visit family after his assignment in Virginia. He was then on his way to Hawaii. There, he had been scheduled to receive a few months of training before heading to South East Asia.

“After leaving Hawaii I flew to Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam,” said Hutchinson. “Introduction to the activities of the Vietcong didn’t take long. Night attacks were numerous that came when least expected. I found out quickly the reason for sandbag bunkers scattered around the base because when those attacks occurred, that’s where you headed for cover. There was never a night patrol considered as routine - they were all different. My shift was mostly from 9 in the evening till 5 in the morning and there was never any danger of falling asleep from boredom.”

Hutchinson’s tour in Vietnam was cut short because of the death of his father; he was sent home for the funeral. Since he had only a little time remaining in the service he was sent to Pope AFB in North Carolina to finish his time in the Air Force.

“I worked at Big Bear Grocery store on 16th Street for a couple of years after coming home, said Hutchinson. “I ended up retiring 31 years later from the wholesale grocery business. I tried golfing but found out music was less frustrating and more rewarding. I enjoy playing guitar and singing at First Baptist Church in Russell, Ky.”

Hutchinson and his wife, Rhonda, were married in Ritter Park’s Rose Garden in May of 1979, they have four boys. Instead of a honeymoon they went back to work the day after the wedding, later on they took a trip to Gatlinburg, TN.

“I loved my tour in the United States Air Force,” said Hutchinson. “There are many times that I look back and wish I had stayed in the military. I love this Country and I’m proud to have served.”

Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email archie350@frontier.com.

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