On a quiet street in Angleton lives a small-statured man in a home that is filled with years of warm memories.
Although George Ruth Jr., 90, now walks with a cane after suffering from three strokes since 2011, his home tells a story of a man who took seriously the duty to serve his country.
With accolades like six Coast Guard Good Conduct Medals, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Korean Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal to name a few, Ruth’s distinguished service speaks for itself.
But his more than two d ecades of time in the armed forces doesn’t describe the tiresome efforts and sometimes tragic path that led Ruth to be the man he is today.
“I always say it’s not the size of the man, but the will of the man that matters,” Ruth said.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941, Ruth was a young boy in Greenwood, Louisiana. He remembers how tragic the event was and how thoroughly it shook the nation.
About the same time the United States officially entered World War II, Ruth’s mother died, leaving him and his seven siblings behind.
“I took a Greyhound bus to New Orleans to find some work, since I had an aunt living there at the time,” Ruth said.
Finding a job as a dishwasher in the heart of the French Quarter, Ruth diligently worked day in and day out.
His hard work didn’t go unnoticed and soon, Ruth would work his way up from washing dishes, onto helping in department stores and then to a paper factory — where a move he would make changed his life forever.
“I was 14 at that time, and the manager saw that I was working hard and offered me another job — but he said I needed to be 18 to do the work,” Ruth said.
While Ruth was four years shy of the appropriate age, he had a knack for solving problems and found a way to register himself as an 18-year-old through a draft agent, in order to work the job the man had offered him.
The only problem was that two weeks later, Ruth received a letter in the mail that told him to report to an industrial house downtown.
“Well, they told me to take my clothes off and get behind a curtain, and I told them I was only 14,” Ruth said. “And they just looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, OK, get back there with all the other ’14- year-olds.’ ”
Unbeknownst to Ruth, he was being drafted into the Army.
After an exam, Ruth was put on a bus to Little Rock, Arkansas, and sent to basic training for the next three months.
“I was a little underfed around that time, so I didn’t mind being there too much. We were fed very well — it was the first time I’d ever seen pancakes,” Ruth said.
Shortly after graduating from basic training — a time Ruth said was mentally and physically challenging — he was sent with the 93rd Infantry overseas to New Guinea.
“Around that time, and I’m not sure how, but I got separated from my platoon and ended up in the Philippines with Australian soldiers,” Ruth said. “But I wasn’t afraid; that’s one thing they took out of you, I wasn’t afraid of nothing.”
Ruth took up with the Australian soldiers for a time, making allies with Philippine guerrillas and warding off the Japanese, he said.
When he was injured a short time later, medical examiners discovered Ruth’s true age and discharged him from the Army on Sept. 12, 1945.
Back in New Orleans, while walking down the street, Ruth saw a bus with a banner that read, “Join the Coast Guard, see the world.”
Though he didn’t know anything about being a sailor, that sign would launch Ruth’s 23 years working in food services on numerous Coast Guard ships and bases across the world.
Laughing as he described how other chefs would get seasick and not be able to cook meals for the men on board, Ruth said when the sea was rough, he came alive.
“I’d make doughnuts and bacon and fresh bread. All sorts of things. No one knew how I was cooking like that with a rough sea,” Ruth said.
If there’s one thing serving in the Coast Guard taught Ruth, it was that when someone’s in trouble, a rescue attempt is always made.
“We never gave up on rescues. Helping someone is the greatest thing I could have ever done,” Ruth said.
After leaving the Coast Guard, Ruth settled in southeast Texas, where he would meet his wife, Lois, and raise his three sons.
He worked as director of food services for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 20 years after his military service.
“He always had an industrious spirit,” said Army Col. Stephen Ruth, George Ruth Jr.’s son. “He was always working, always trying to make things better ... Knowing his story at an early age, I’ve been able to see how he’s always trying to improve his life around him.”
Having a family with both a mother and father dedicated to a life of service, Stephen Ruth said the example was set early on.
“My mom taught school for 10 years and then did missionary work, and they both did a lot in service, and that was instilled from an early age,” Stephen Ruth said. “Throughout my life, it just became a natural extension of that.”
Stephen Ruth dedicated his life and career to the Army, following in his father’s footsteps after graduating from Texas A&M and serving seven tours overseas. He attributes his success to his family and the life they led in Angleton.
“From serving through Korea and Vietnam, it’s just an amazing testimony of that generation of Americans that really makes him quite unique,” Stephen Ruth said of his father. “They grew up through the Great Depression and they had developed a sense of hardiness and keep carrying on. It’s a different perspective to have, and that’s one of the gifts those from the greatest generation attempted to give to us.”