George L. Shelley III

The Ultimate Utility Player.

George Shelley in Korea (Photo courtesy of George Shelley).

George Shelley in Korea (Photo courtesy of George Shelley).

When Col George Shelley, USMCR (Ret.) wakes up every morning, the first thing he does is put on his dog tags. One is from Korea, the other from Vietnam. The shiny pieces of metal serve as a reminder—not so much of combat, which he saw plenty of—but rather of the times he helped or was helped by others.

Like the time Shelley was an enlisted marine in Korea, serving as an artillery forward observer on a remote outpost in “no-man’s-land.” The rifle platoon he was assigned to had been called back to the main line of resistance, but Shelley’s radio wasn’t working, so he had no way of knowing whether he should stay put or go back with the infantry unit. The platoon commander said, “Hang on, I’ll check in with someone and get back to you.” A few minutes later he told Shelley, “You come back with us.” The following night the area was completely overrun by the enemy; there were no survivors. Sometime later Shelley learned the platoon commander hadn’t actually checked in with anyone, but was simply “looking out for him.”

Fifteen years later, while serving with the III Marine Amphibious Force in Vietnam—this time as a reserve officer—Shelley had the chance to pay the favor forward. A young corporal under his command was newly married (his wife had just given birth, and he was terrified he wouldn’t live to see his infant son). Shelley, knowing all too well what terror felt like, pulled some strings and got the soldier transferred to a rear echelon position. “Later on he thanked me from the bottom of his heart,” Shelley says.

Shelley found ways to help Vietnamese civilians as well. Initially assigned as an intelligence officer with the III Marines, he was later reassigned as a G-5 (civic actions officer). Drawing from his prior experience as a Linguistic Director and English Department Chair in Taiwan (where he met his wife, Betty), he taught English to children of the impoverished Vrou tribe, and supervised the construction of a school in Danang using wood he had salvaged from U.S. Army ammunition crates.

Another time he prevented several tons of rice (which had been confiscated from the Viet Cong) from being destroyed. “The Americans were going to burn it,” Shelley says. “I told them, ‘Hold on, I’ve got a home for that stuff,’” and he delivered it to the villagers.

The Vietnam War witnessed the introduction of many military devices employing new technology. Shelley not only introduced laser-guided missiles, but also was extensively involved in testing the Integrated Observation Device, which enabled the artillery forward observer to determine the precise location of the enemy target. His actions in Vietnam earned him the Bronze Star Medal with Combat V and Combat Action Ribbon.

After completing his PhD in linguistics and anthropology in 1978, Shelley was hired by Norwich to teach ESL to Iranian students. When the Iranians were deported in 1980, the versatile Shelley became a “utility player,” serving wherever there was a need. He taught courses in cultural anthropology, military literature, and Chinese language, and served as the Marine Corps liaison officer prior to the establishment of Norwich’s marine commissioning program.

In 1991 he received the Sears Award for Teaching Excellence, and in 2005, the Norwich University Board of Fellows awarded him its Outstanding Service Medallion.

When asked to comment on a lifetime of military and academic achievement, Shelley responds, “Once in a while you do the right thing.”

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