Brig. Gen. George R. Spalding was born in Monroe, Michigan, 25 January 1877. His father, George Spalding, who was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, came to America at the age of twelve and settled with his parents in Monroe, Michigan. George Spalding, senior, was also a Brig. Gen. and served with distinction in the Union Army during the Civil War. He subsequently served his country as a congressman from Michigan and while in Washington, his son George R. Spalding acted as his assistant. Gen. Spalding’s mother, Augusta Lewis, was also from Scotland and was loved by all who knew her.
George R. Spalding graduated with the Class of 1901 from West Point. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. His first assignment was in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. The engineers were building roads through the interior during George’s service in the Philippines and he often said, “The most valuable service to the Engineers during that troubled time was performed by the mules. Mules could always detect a Moro ambush, and the Engineers were many times warned of danger by their so-called ‘stupid’ helpers.”
After two years in the Pacific, Lt. Spalding was stationed at Washington Barracks which was at that time the Engineer School. While in Washington, he was made an Aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. Also while in Washington, he met Alice M. Ruff whose family were long-time residents of Washington. Alice and George were married on 17 September 1904 and were never separated, when it could be prevented, until Gen. Spalding died.
Leaving Washington Barracks, George was ordered to Pittsburgh under the command of General Seibert where he helped to start the Ohio river series of dams which would eventually bring the river up to the "nine foot stage.” (Years later, in 1929, while serving as District Engineer in Louisville, Ky., he completed the Ohio river project. This accomplishment was marked by a ceremony attended by, the then President of the United States, Herbert Hoover.)
Following service in the Pittsburgh District, George had a series of duties which in the space of two years sent him to St. Louis, Denver and Detroit. In 1908, Captain Spalding was ordered to Jacksonville, Fla. as District Engineer. While there, he built the St. Johns river jetties and started the inland water-ways canal. It was George Spalding who recommended a harbor in Tampa which was at that time, a very small port. Also while in Jacksonville, he saved two men from drowning and received the Carnegie medal of which he was always proud.
From Jacksonville, George was ordered to Leavenworth, Kan. as instructor in the Department of Engineering in the Command and General Staff School. There he and his family had a taste for the first time of real post living. The "family" by this time consisted of George and Alice and two sons and a daughter.
After leaving Leavenworth, George served as District Engineer in Cincinnati from 1915 to 1916 and in Louisville from 1916 until 1917. While in Louisville, war was declared and George was asked to write manuals which would be of help to Engineers in the field. Some of those manuals were used in the Second World War.
As a major, in 1917, Spalding was sent to Fort Meyer Training Camp and there he served training troops until he was sent "overseas" with the 305th Engineers, of the 80th Division. The men who served with him in the 305th have always called him “The Colonel”, no matter what his rank became later. Also, those men kept in touch with George even though they became civilians at the end of the war. Most men who served with him in times of stress really loved and respected him.
In France, George Spalding was made Chief Engineer of the V Corps after leaving his regiment, serving under General Sommerall, and then later was made Chief Engineer of the Third Army under General Dickman. During the war, he received three medals: Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Honneur, (Officer), French, and Order of Leopold, (Officer), Belgian.
After the war, George Spalding was sent to the General Staff College at Washington Barracks, Washington D. C. as an instructor. This detail was almost a “coming home” as George and Alice had started their married life at Washington Barracks. Four years of the warmth of post life for the family seemed to dim the separation which the war had caused.
In 1923, Lt. Col. Spalding was assigned to the post of District Engineer at Florence, Ala. and given the important task of completing the Muscle Shoals Dam, now known as the Wilson Dam. This work and other engineering assignments, i. e. District Engineer at Louisville, Ky. and Divisional Engineer, Upper Mississippi Valley Division, St. Louis, Missouri related to the development of US rivers and harbors earned him the high regard of professional and military engineers. The following quote is from The Waterways Journal of 11 August 1962, published after General Spalding died.
“In the 1920’s, with the rank of colonel, George R. Spalding made his mark in river circles as District Engineer in Louisville while several lower Ohio river wicket dams, particularly No. 46 at Owensboro, Ky. were under construction. In the fall of 1929 the US Engineers abolished the Division Engineer offices at two or three cities on Western rivers and stationed Colonel Spalding in St. Louis as Division Engineer for all western rivers north of Cairo. His territory stretched from the Allegheny River in New York state to the Mississippi in Minnesota and the Yellowstone River into Yellowstone Park. Col. Spalding filled this vast responsibility with ease and efficiency. He also had great ability for getting along with anybody and everybody and especially for cutting through red tape.” After leaving the St. Louis Division in 1933, Col. Spalding was ordered to Fort Humphries, Va. as commander of the Post and the Engineering School. From there he was sent to the North Atlantic Division, New York as Divisional Engineer, and then to Washington, D. C. as Assistant Chief of Staff G-4.
On 31 July 1938, General Spalding was retired from active service due to a heart attack. He and Alice then made a home for themselves in Bradenton, Fla. where he regained his health. Subsequently, when he was recalled to duty on 15 Feb 1941, he was ready and willing to serve his country once again. He returned to Washington and was made the Liaison Officer between the Headquarters, Army Service Forces, and the Office of Lend Lease Administration during the period of 1942 until 1944. For this service, he was awarded the Citation for the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. The Citation quotes at the end, “As a result of his constant devotion to duty and the brilliant manner in which he accomplished his assignment, General Spalding has contributed markedly to the successful prosecution of the war.”
Once again retired, General Spalding returned to Bradenton where he lived quietly and in good health with Alice. On 28 June 1962, George died peacefully in his own home. As “old soldiers”, he died with his “boots on”.
General Spalding is survived by his wife Alice, who was with him until the end; two sons, George and Albert, and a daughter, Mrs. L. R. Wirak; eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Many things can be said of George, but none can say that he didn’t live a full life, with fun and work each getting its share.
-Alice S. Wirak, daughter