May 30—One of the most prominent veterans in Aiken's history was also a top local businessmen of his day, and the late Albert George's background also included one of the most infamous moments in U.S. military history: the Bataan Death March, remembered as a low point in U.S. involvement in World War II.
The infantryman, whose family name is largely remembered today through George Funeral Home, was a member of the 101st Field Artillery and a 1936 graduate of what was then known as Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina.
A nightmarish event unfurled in April 1942 when Japanese troops conquered the Philippines and forced tens of thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war to walk 60-plus miles under brutal conditions to a point where they were loaded onto trains for their processing and removal as POWs.
Food and water were scarce, and beatings and torture added to the nightmare for many. George, however, endured the march and survived imprisonment, as did Manny Lawton, of Garnett; and Ben Skardon, of Walterboro. Skardon, now 103 years old and living in Clemson, is a celebrity in some circles for his participation in "the annual Bataan Memorial Death March Remembrance at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, one of the toughest and most popular marathons in the world."
Several Clemson compatriots of Lawton, Skardon and George survived the march but died before POWs were liberated. That group included Henry Leitner, of Greenwood; Otis Morgan, Laurens; Martin Crook Jr., Spartanburg; Francis Scarborough, Bishopville; and Bill English, Columbia.
George's dad, D.M. George, was the Aiken funeral home's founder — and the man who eventually made his way to the Philippines joined the Army in November 1940 at age 25. "In November 1941 he sailed from San Francisco to Ft. McKinley in Manila — just in time for the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in December. Albert George was reported missing after the Battle of Bataan. In May '43 he was reported to be a Japanese POW," said a report from the funeral home. He spent the final days of the war in a Manchurian prison camp.
George, who had three sisters and two brothers, had Johanna Gibbs as one of his nieces. She recalled him this week as "a wonderful uncle" and a private person who kept his military memories to himself.
The family, Gibbs said, not only ran the funeral home but also operated a dairy and farm, with corn and soybeans as part of the mix on the acreage now holding up Aiken High School.
George also merited two mentions in "The Many Faces of Aiken: A Pictorial History," a 1985 creation by author Will Cole, in celebration of the community's 150th anniversary. Cole cited George as having "started the Red Cross blood program in Aiken," with the efforts coming to fruition in 1953. At the time, Aiken had "the second such full-service community program to be established in the United States."
Cole described George as a businessman who avoided the limelight while offering "tireless efforts and sage advice." His blood-banking efforts were a focal point.
"This program has been of inestimable value to the community as it provides, at no cost, the needed blood for any Aikenite regardless of where in the United States or or she may be at time of need. It is estimated that to donate the program has collected and dispensed blood worth close to $3 million. Albert was active with the Businessman's Club, the Rotary Club and served as chairman of United way. He received the Man of the Year Award from the Chamber of Commerce, and the Mankind Award from the Sertoma Club," the author noted.