Watkins served in Korean War after graduating from Clemson
HARTSVILLE, S.C. -- When George L. Watkins graduated in 1952 from Clemson College, an all-male military school, the Korean War was raging and the United States was engaged. It wasn’t long before he was on his way to Korea to fight for his country.
“We got our diplomas and active-duty orders at the same time,” Watkins said. “The war had been going on quite a while when I was commissioned into the Army.”
He received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Officer’s Reserve Corps in the infantry from Clemson. After training at Fort Benning, Watkins headed to Korea.
From his front porch in rural Darlington County, the 88-year-old veteran recently reminisced about his time in the U.S. Army. Watkins said he still keeps up with some of his Army buddies.
“We went to school together and went into the Army together,” he said.
“A year after we got there, we got word there was going to be a cease fire,” he said. “It was to take place at 10 at night. There was a real war going on up until then. I still remember that night. They kept hammering us until the exact time of the cease fire. It was like someone pulled a switch.”
At exactly 10 p.m., Watkins said, the fighting stopped.
“I came out of a foxhole and the stars were shining,” he said. “It was all quiet.”
He said the American troops stayed a while longer, but they were told they could get out of the service if they wanted to or they could elect to stay.
“I elected to get out, and they sent me back home,” he said. “I was only in active duty for about two years, but I stayed in the reserves until I could retire.”
He came out of the Army as a first lieutenant and retired from the U.S. Army Reserve, where he was a member of the Third Army Reserve Rifle team, as a lieutenant colonel.
“We were used to teach the recruits,” he said. “I did a lot of shooting. I enjoyed the marksmanship training.”
He said the rifle team also competed in matches against other rifle teams.
Watkins returned to the community where he grew up. He said he lived approximately five miles from Hartsville on his father’s farm.
“We did it all,” he said. “We planted tobacco, cotton and soybeans. My father had a rather large farm.”
He attended Antioch School for roughly eight years, but said he wanted to play football, so he transferred to Hartsville High School.
Watkins put his experience on the farm and his education at Clemson College to good use once he became a civilian. He chose a career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service, which continued into the mid-1980s when he retired.
“I never left South Carolina,” Watkins said. “I did go to other counties and ended up retiring from Anderson County.”
In 1952, just before entering the service, Watkins married his wife, Elizabeth, whom he left behind to await his return. The couple had four children and now have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Only one of their children lives in Hartsville. The others are scattered from Florida to Michigan.
Now that he is retired, Watkins spends his days working around the house, farming a little with his son who lives with them and tending to their cats, dogs and horses.