George Anthony Rebh
CPT in 406th Engineer Combat Co
Born 1921 in MI, Died 2018
Other residence(s): Detroit, MI; Dearborn, MI in 1942; numerous military postings; Arlington, VA in 2002
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
College education before the war: West Point
College education after the war: Oxford
George Rebh was born on September 14, 1921 in Detroit, MI. He was the older of two children; his father had been born in Yugoslavia.
He attended Fordson High School in Detroit, where he showed early promise, serving as class and Student Council president, yearbook editor, captain of the basketball team (at only 5'6"), member of the baseball team, first trumpet in the band, and class valedictorian at his 1939 graduation. He won both academic and athletic scholarships to the University of Michigan, where, according to his obituary, "he intended to earn a degree and return home to run the Ford Motor Company. However, a chance encounter pointed him to West Point as a better path—a place that trained leaders in self-discipline and how to work with people."
He excelled at the Academy, ranking 12th in his class, and serving as captain of the basketball team. The class of 1943 graduated early, in January, to get them into the war quicker. George was assigned to the 293rd Engineer Combat Battalion. A year later, his commander was ordered to detach his best company for a secret mission—and that was the crack unit headed by Lt. Rebh. He was promoted to the rank of CPT and the unit headed off to Tennessee where they became the 406th Engineer Combat Company of the Ghost Army. (His West Point classmate, Harry Reeder, Jr., also served in the Ghost Army.)
In The Ghost Army of World War II, the authors describe a deception in which George was involved. "Captain Rebh was impersonating a full colonel in a regimental command post. Two officers who had been a year ahead of him at West Point happened into his phony command post and were shocked to see that this underclassman now outranked them. 'Here we are about two years later,' said Rebh, 'and I'd gone from cadet to full colonel which is quite unusual.' On the way out, the pair stopped and asked his first sergeant how Rebh had become a colonel so fast. The sergeant brushed them off with a remark about being in the right place at the right time, and the two officers left shaking their heads, mystified over Rebh's meteoric rise."
After the war in Europe was over, George returned to the US as aide-de-camp to General Leslie R. Groves (of the Manhattan Project), where he learned how to manage large, complex projects and helped establish the Research Office of the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1947 he was promoted to MAJ, was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford, and married Lois Jeanne Garner before heading to England.
He and Jeanne would go on to have two sons: George L. and Richard.
George earned a BA and an MA from Oxford in politics, philosophy, and economics in 1950. While there, he organized the university's first basketball team, serving as player, captain, and coach; according to his obituary "he is credited with founding basketball as a major university sport." He also lettered in lacrosse.
He returned to active duty in October, 1950, and was selected by General Collins, Army Chief of Staff, to develop a plan to defend Europe using atomic weapons; this largely individual project would take him the next four years. He was then assigned to Korea, with the rank of LTC; there he designed and built new defensive lines and developed a plan for using atomic weapons in defense, if authorized. In 1956, he crossed over into public construction as Executive Officer for the Tulsa Engineer District planning the $1.2 billion Arkansas River navigation program.
He spent a year studying at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, and in 1958 he returned to West Point where he created and taught new courses in International Relations, National Security, Economics, and Personal Finance. The last course included a unit on investing in the stock market; according to his obituary George "felt cadets should know how to benefit from the capitalist system they were defending."
In 1961-62 he attended the Industrial War College and wrote a thesis "On Taming the Communist Russian Bear" which proposed active, considered engagement to create a tactical stalemate while focusing on economic, military, and ideological strength to win in the long run. This ended up being a winning strategy in the Cold War.
He was assigned to Europe and rose to Deputy Chief of Staff, Seventh Army, under General William Harris. Harris was the officer to whom the Ghost Army had reported in World War II and was his strongest proponent for promotion to general.
He spent a year in Vietnam, directing combat engineering, construction, and mine removal, and was then assigned to the Pentagon as Chief of the Force Development Plans Division to create the five-year plan for the all-volunteer force the Army is today. He was promoted to Brig. Gen., and became Deputy Director of Military Construction, managing a budget of $1.5 billion. This led to recognition as one of the "Top Ten Public Works Leaders-of-the-Year of North America" for the design and construction of the Postal Service Bulk Mail System.
In 1973 he was promoted to Maj. Gen. to oversee his unit's work as they were "on loan" to Saudi Arabia to manage $20 billion in infrastructure projects. He retired in 1975 and moved back to Arlington, VA, where he consulted for another ten years. He and Jeanne had divorced in 1975, and in 1979 he married Joyce Ann Alber Nadeau, with whom he would spend almost 40 years. Joyce had four children from a previous marriage, which expanded his family considerably.
In retirement he was active in his condo association, loved to dance, and was a skilled card player.
He died on March 28, 2018 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Want to know more? Watch the Rick Beyer interview of George Rebh.
1939 article in Ironwood Daily Globe (MI) re his high school graduation and attending West Point
1947 1st marriage record
1947 article in Detroit Free Press re his marriage and his work
1979 2nd marriage record
2018 Find a Grave record (includes obituary)
2019 Obituary in the Washington Post