REBH George Anthony Rebh "One of the most popular cadets in his class, one of the highest in cadet rankings, a giant among the finest group of Americans I have ever known" Bill Stewart, 100 years old, USMA Class of January 43, 1 of 9 still alive. If you crossed General Rebh's path, you'd remember. To your polite "How's it going?" he'd crinkle his bushy eyebrows, coil up, and then belt out an enthusiastic "Outstanding!" that resonated down the hall. A bit uncomfortable at first, but then you'd smile and perk up a bit. That's what he intended-break the monotony to energize you. He drew out the best from everyone regardless of position or situation. Not quite 5' 6," he was captain of his West Point basketball team and a Rhodes Scholar; he was an uncommon combination of intellect and enthusiasm, girded by determination and deep humanity. Respected as firm but fair, he was an excellent "hands-on" manager, connecting in person (at project sites) and with daily phone calls and handwritten notes to motivate, assess, and progress. General Rebh's military career spanned 33 years. He received national recognition for managing major public construction; yet he felt he did his best work on military projects few knew about. Major General George Anthony Rebh was born on September 14, 1921 in Detroit, Michigan. President of his high school class and Student Council, yearbook editor, captain of the basketball team and Michigan All-State, member of the baseball team, first trumpet in the band, and Valedictorian, George received both academic and athletic scholarships to the University of Michigan. 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. So, in the summer of 1939 he entered West Point not intending a military career; then the world changed. Three and a half years later, his class was graduated early (January '43) to get into the war (tragically suffering the highest battlefield casualty rate of any class since the Civil War). Ranking #12 academically in a class of 413-#1 his senior year-he was captain of the basketball team, played baseball, and excelled in tactics. He chose to be an Engineer. He was quickly tapped to help create a top secret military unit of engineers, technicians, and artists organized to execute tactical deception-- communicating false information (using fake tanks / emplacements / signal traffic / sonic broadcasts) about troop placements, strengths and intentions to manipulate enemy intelligence. He commanded the 406 Engineer Combat Company (203 men) of the 23rd Special Troops (1,083 men)-the field engineers of the Ghost Army who created "facts" on the ground to dupe visual intelligence and maintained critical perimeter security (against the enemy, locals, and fellow US troop: he had cyanide to take if captured, which once he nearly was). Deployed shortly after D-Day, they created their deception "recipe" on the fly, conducting 21 operations in France, building to their greatest success: the 9th Army crossing the Rhine with only 32 casualties instead of an estimated 10,000, earning a commander commendation. After VE Day, he 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 established the Research Office of the AEC. Feeling he could be more effective with an expanded liberal arts education, he secured a Rhodes scholarship and earned a BA and MA in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Oxford from 1947 to 1950. He organized the university's first basketball team serving as player, captain and coach to play goodwill games on the Continent (splitting an eight game series with the Czech Olympic team); he is credited with founding basketball as a major university sport. He also lettered in lacrosse. With the June US defensive collapse in Korea, on returning to active duty in October 1950, he was selected by General Collins (Army Chief of Staff) to develop a plan to defend Europe using atomic weapons. The largely individual task took four years. He surveyed terrain from the air and ground from the North Sea to the Adriatic, coordinated with US, British and French commanders on the ground, and game-played likely invasion routes to select geographies where atomic weapons could be used effectively. Delivery of the bombs by air meant delaying and concentrating invaders would be critical, so he developed barrier plans to funnel, delay and hold invaders in place. His plans were accepted without change and implemented, creating stockpiles of two million anti-tank mines plus anti-personnel mines and barrier materials. Due to the difficulty and importance of this work and his primary responsibility, he considered it his finest military work. He was then assigned to Korea but hostilities ceased as he arrived: he designed and built new defensive lines and applied lessons from his European work in a plan for using atomic weapons in defense, if authorized. In 1956, he crossed over to public construction as Executive Officer for the Tulsa Engineer District planning the $1.2 billion Arkansas River navigation program connecting Tulsa, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico for barge traffic. In the mid-1960s he would return as the District Engineer for two years to manage the program during its peak activity (21 projects, 18 reservoirs in operation). It created a regional economic boom, lowering transportation costs (and CO2 emissions) and has returned its cost more than six times in flood damage prevention alone. After a year of study at the Command and General Staff College in Ft. Leavenworth, in 1958, he returned to West Point to teach tactics and then was tapped by George Lincoln, also a Rhodes Scholar, to be Associate Professor in the new Department of Social Sciences. He created and taught new First Class (senior) courses on International Relations, National Security, Economics, and Personal Finance, which included how to invest in the stock market (he felt cadets should know how to benefit from the capitalist system they were defending). He was officer representative for the basketball team and assisted in coaching. In 1961-62, he attended the Industrial War College of the Armed Forces 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 ideology strength to win a long game. He recognized the role of culture and highlighted dangers of pushing American democracy on the rest of the world. This is the strategy that won the Cold War. He was assigned to Europe to command the 521st Engineer Group responsible for 24-hour missile readiness and rose to Deputy Chief of Staff, Seventh Army under General William Harris, to whom the 23rd Special had reported in WW II and his strongest proponent for promotion to general. He then worked on the Sentinel ABM system as Deputy Division Engineer before volunteering for Vietnam where he directed all combat engineering, construction, and mine removal in the I and II Corp Tactical Zones (north of Saigon to the DMZ) for a year as Deputy Commander of the 15,000 men in the 18th Engineer Brigade. He 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. Promoted to Brigadier General, he became Deputy Director of Military Construction managing an annual budget of $1.5 billion. He established and managed the Corps program to develop computer controlled bulk mail processing centers across the country to improve speed and reduce cost of delivering packages and non-first class mail. This huge, complex program, estimated to cost $7 billion over five years, was delivered on time and below budget. In 1973, he was promoted to Major General and became the Director and oversaw dramatic expansion of Corp activity in the Middle East as the Administration "loaned" the Corps to Saudi Arabia to manage $20 billion in infrastructure projects of hospitals, airports, and barracks. He developed a relationship with Prince Sultan, the future Crown Prince. The variety and scale of projects undertaken by the Corps during his directorship is unprecedented. Slated for a general staff assignment in Asia for further advancement, he retired in 1975 to realize his dream of building a major company. He received seed funding from the Saudi Royal family to develop plans for a construction management company, which the Kingdom clearly needed. He moved to Jeddah and begin hiring when the family changed its mind, allowing others to capitalize on the opportunity (including the bin Laden group). He moved back to Arlington, consulted for another 10 years, and played an active role at the Representative Condominium, resolving construction issues and chairing the Board and Social Committee. He loved to dance and was a skilled card player (particularly poker which he learned on the troop ship to Europe and sent home winnings monthly during the war). Ever a military tactician, in private, he rolled out a map and predicted the plan for Desert Storm. He understood and cared about people. As his World War II unit history records, "At the instigation of Lt Rebh, a PX was set up. Calling a meeting, the CO explained he wanted the men to have every possible convenience. In return, he expected cooperation, and if he received it, there was no reason why the unit couldn't be just one big happy family. "Treat me like your father," he said. "If you have any troubles, don't be afraid to come to me for advice." They executed their mission, and he returned every one safely home; all but one shook his hand on deactivation day in respect and gratitude. He served as father to many across his long life that ended March 28, 2018. His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, two Legions of Merit, the Bronze Star, three Air Medals, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Commendation Medal. In 1974, he was selected as one of the "Top Ten Public Works Leaders-of-the-Year of North America" for design and construction of the Postal Service Bulk Mail System. In 1977, he was awarded the single Honorary Membership given each year by the Building and Grounds Institute of the American Public Works Association to an American or Canadian making a major contribution in the field of public works. General Rebh was predeceased by his first wife, the former Jeanne Garner of Abilene, Texas, his wife for his entire military career. He was also predeceased by first son, George, a recognized artist and business entrepreneur. He is survived by his younger son, Richard, and his son, George's three grandchildren: Emily, Christina and George Michael. He is also survived by his second wife of 40 years, the former Joyce Ann Alber of Detroit, Michigan, and Joyce's four children by a previous marriage, Suzanne Duckett, Sigrid Nadeau, Eric Nideau, and Nicole Caron, and 16 grandchildren. He will receive a funeral with full military honors at Arlington Cemetery on June 21, starting at 3 p.m. at the Ft Myer Old Chapel. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Wounded Warriors or Doctors without Borders.He will receive a funeral with full military honors at Arlington Cemetery on June 21, starting at 3 p.m. at the Ft Myer Old Chapel. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Wounded Warriors or Doctors without Borders.
Published in The Washington Post on May 26, 2019.