Bob Skaggs, 78, Army officer

June 03, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Bob Gillette Skaggs, a career Army officer who witnessed an atomic explosion and survived two lightning strikes, died Sunday of emphysema and pneumonia at a hospital in Delray Beach, Fla. The former Savage resident was 78.

Mr. Skaggs was born in Inola, Okla., and began his Army life in an ROTC program at Amarillo High School in Texas.

He worked as a radio technician in the early months of World War II, shuttling between various bases in the United States, eventually joining the Army Signal Corps.

The first hostile fire he encountered came from the forces of nature: While using a telephone during a training exercise, the charge from a lightning bolt surged through the wires and shocked him. Knocked down, Mr. Skaggs picked himself up and later went to Officer Candidate School in New Jersey.

In 1943, he married Wava G. Braurn in Macon, Ga.

Mr. Skaggs worked as a logistics officer, working to ensure that troops going overseas had necessary supplies. Later in the war, he became responsible for outfitting stations along the East Coast with the latest in radar surveillance technology.

After the war, Mr. Skaggs and his father briefly took up dairy farming in California. The venture didn't work out, and Mr. Skaggs rejoined the Signal Corps bn 1947.

That year, he provided equipment to the crews that conducted atomic tests at the Pacific atoll of Eniwetok. Braving seasickness and the prospect of radiation poisoning, he witnessed the explosion of an atomic bomb from a boat.

Mr. Skaggs was later transferred to Europe and commanded the headquarters company of the 97th Signal Battalion near Stuttgart, West Germany. During maneuvers, he was struck by a lightning bolt while in his tent, The bolt hit his helmet, leaving only a bruise on his forehead.

He returned to the United States in 1954 to study education at Colorado State University. Shortly before graduation, his wife became ill, and he re-entered the Army to shore up his family's finances.

After a stint in the Pacific, he moved to Maryland to work for the National Security Agency. Mr. Skaggs retired from the military in 1963.

In 1975, Mr. Skaggs and his wife bought the Savage home of Commodore Joshua Barney, a naval commander in the War of 1812. They restored the home, and in 1978 it was placed on the National Register as a historic site.

The house was nearly destroyed by a fire in 1992. In 1997, the Skaggses moved to Boynton Beach, Fla. A service was held there Wednesday.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Skaggs is survived by a son, Jay D. Skaggs of Boynton Beach; a daughter, Roberta Kathryn Fitzpatrick of Silver Spring; and two grandchildren.

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