Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obie Skinner and the Mexican Revolution

by David Parmer

In Uncle Zeke fashion, the reference to his death was brief: “Obie Skinner of Orlando, whose illness has often been mentioned, died Sunday, October 24th, 1926, after an illness of several years. Funeral services were held on Tuesday. Reverend E. F. Keller of the U. B. Church officiated. He leaves a wife and host of friends to mourn his loss.”

Obie Skinner was only thirty five years of age when he died from the complications of tuberculosis. The oldest child of Joe and Effie (Riffle) Skinner of Orlando, his record of birth indicates that his birth name was Charles O. Skinner, but he always referred to himself as “Obie.” Obie was married to Lulu, the daughter of Francis M. and Ollie (Skinner) Blake. No children survived him.

Left: Sergent Obie Skinner aboard the USS Georgia
Right: closeup of Sergent Obie Skinner aboard the USS Georgia

A United States Marine
In 1910, when Obie was nineteen years of age, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, then, as now, an elite branch of the military service, connected to the United States Navy. A good marine, Obie made rank fast, when at the time rank was slow in coming to most enlistees.

A Letter to the Editor
When Marine Sergeant Obie Skinner was attached to the United States battleship, U.S.S. Georgia, in order to keep his fellow countrymen and friends and relatives in Orlando apprised of the unrest in Mexico he wrote a letter to the editor of the Weston Independent which was published in that newspaper on March 3, 1914, under the headline Orlando Boy Writes From Mexico:

. . . . .

State of Vera Cruz, Mexico
Vera Cruz
February 15th, 1914

Dear Editor:
I am a subscriber to the Independent, and I feel it my duty to write you a few notes regarding the Mexican situation for the benefit of the other readers of the paper. There seems not to be much interest in it. The United States must keep ships here both on the Atlantic and Pacific sides, to protect American “Refuges.” Mexico is under the provisional government and the prospect for peace is a long way off.

General Huerta, acting President of Mexico said: “While I am president of the Republic I will not permit the rebels to take control, without they take it by force.”

And at present that too, seems a long way off. This is Sunday morning, and I am on the quarterdeck of the U. S. S. Georgia trying to express my opinion about the situation in Mexico. Directly west I can see the beautiful Orizaba Mountains, 17,372 feet high, which extend beyond the clouds. This range of mountains is just 69 miles west of Vera Cruz; also the city of Orizaba is at the foot of the mountains.
Left: Pico de Orizaba is the highest mountain in Mexico. It is an active volcano which last erupted in the 1600s.

Vera Cruz has not been attacked by the rebels yet but the federals, have large troops encamped here. Battleships of different nations are here. Of the United States there are: the Georgia, the Rhode Island, the Nebraska, the Virginia, the Connecticut, the Cruiser Chester, H.M.S. England, Essex, Suffolk, and Dresden; S. M. S. France, Conde V. Spanish Ship Carlos IV, all of which are anchored just outside of the breakwaters of the city of Vera Cruz to protect the “Refugees” of different nations.

At eight o’clock, a.m., each ship has a large band on board, and while the colors are being hoisted each ship’s band plays its national air.

Leaving for Vera Cruz, Mexico January 21st for tour of duty there, it was the first time during the present trouble in Mexico that our Atlantic Fleet has had an opportunity of seeing any of the actual revolution.

Soon after our arrival at Tampico, we began to hear rumors of the coming trouble. After a few days of almost continuous firing, the rebels withdrew to Altomora, which is 16 miles from Tampico. They are still in control of the railroads either way and practically have the federals bottled up in town.

We left Tampico Friday and arrived at
Vera Cruz Saturday evening, February 13, and everything seems to be pleasant here. We leave for Cuba the 17th for battle practice at Guacanayabo Gulf, Manzanillo, Cuba. After battle practice, we leave for Guantanamo Bay where small arms practice will be held and we will go in camp for eight days to enjoy the fresh air. It is very warm here – 95 degrees. I do not think it is that in West Virginia.

I am a West Virginia boy and have been in the United States Marine Corps for about three years and four months. When my time expires on November 3rd, 1914, I expect to come back to the dear old state of West Virginia to spend my remaining years with my parents and other dear friends.

I have seen 32 different states, Cuba, Panama, England, Philippine Islands, South America and France, but still “The West Virginia Hills” seems to ring in my ears every day of my life, and God helping me, I expect to see them once again, where I know I can be happy and lived contented. Wait, West Virginia friends, until you have traveled as far as I have you will have no desire to see any more of this old world, for when you remember that everything looks exactly the same, whether in New York City, Boston or London, then why should a West Virginian bend his head, and look forward for more when you can sing, “I am one of West Virginia’s Best Men.”

As I have no more time at present, I shall close.

Sgt. O. C. Skinner
U. S. S. Georgia
Cpo, P.M., N.Y.C.

Editor’s Note:
Sergeant Skinner’s former home was at Orlando and the Independent is sure that many Independent readers will peruse this and any future letters he may write with no little interest.


Upon reading their son’s letter to the editor of the Weston Independent, Joe and Effie Skinner no doubt were very proud of their son, the Marine, and of his patriotism and love for his state.

Obie Skinner, the Insurance Man
After Obie received his honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, true to his word, he returned to his home state of West Virginia and his boyhood home of Orlando. A booming railroad town such as Orlando had a need for insurance underwriting to protect businesses and homes against loss from fire and casualty, as well as life insurance for the citizens of the area. Obie, handsome and intelligent, as well as enterprising, was Orlando’s only resident insurance agent. Besides, with the paternal name of Skinner, a mother who was a Riffle, and a wife who was a Blake, Obie was related to most of the people in town, and consequently fared well in the insurance trade. The Annual Report of the Auditor’s Office of the State Insurance Department for 1918 listed Obie as a representative of Penn Mutual Insurance Company, one of the leading insurance companies of the day.

Unfortunately, tuberculosis was a prevalent disease in the early part of the 20th century and afflicted many people. A sneeze or cough, laden with tubercular bacteria, silently haunted public places and brought infection to many people who were exposed to the virulent disease for which there was no cure.

Uncle Zeke informed us that Obie’s illness was long. No doubt it was also agonizing to him and to his family, and death was not easy for those afflicted and many promising careers were cut short by the dreaded disease.

Obie died in Orlando just twelve years after he wrote to the editor of the Weston Independent to explain the state of Mexican affairs and to express his longing for his home state of West Virginia. He was buried in the Orlando Cemetery.

Comment by Donna Gloff
America was coming of age and flexing its muscles in Obie Skinner's time. Obie was nine when Teddy Roosevelt led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill.

Left: a painting of the Rough Riders' Charge up San Juan Hill.
Obie entered the service in 1910 and he wrote the letter to the editor in 1914. We don't know at what point Obie was assigned to the USS Georgia, but Wikipedia offers the following itinerary for the ship on which Obie served. Could there have been a better place for a young man seeking proud adventure?

"The Georgia, in company with other battleships and supply vessels, departed San Francisco July 1908 . . . showing the flag and bringing the message of American sea power to many parts of the world, including the Philippines, Australia, Japan, and Mediterranean ports. The fleet returned to Hampton Roads 22 February 1909.

"At this point she was overhauled. . . . Georgia continued to serve with the Atlantic Fleet in exercises and battle maneuvers, with periods of overhaul interspersed, until 2 November 1910 when President William Howard Taft reviewed the fleet prior to its departure for France. In an elaborate battle and scouting problem, Georgia and the other battleships continued their training, visiting Weymouth, England, and returning to Guantanamo Bay on 13 March 1911.
From 1911 to 1913, Georgia continued to train and serve as a ceremonial ship, and 5 June 1913 participated in a 2-month practice cruise for United States Naval Academy midshipmen. After a long overhaul period in Boston Navy Yard, Georgia arrived off the coast of Mexico 14 January 1914 with other fleet units to protect American interests in the troubled Veracruz-Tampico area. The battleship returned briefly to Norfolk, Virginia, in March, but was soon back cruising Mexican waters, and from August to October 1914 cruised off Haiti for the protection of American civilians in that country.

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