Col. George C. Smolenyak
26 January 1936-14 November 2020
He would wake us on Saturday mornings whistling reveille. This was usually accompanied by a glass of OJ and quick, vigorous back rubs to “get the blood pumping.” It was time to do chores and you weren’t going out to play before the house was spotless because this officer-father liked precision, control, and cleanliness. The army had been a good choice for him.
Born to George and Mary (Sydorko) Smolenyak in New York City, George C. Smolenyak was raised initially in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and later in Newark and Rahway, New Jersey. The first in his family to receive a college degree, he graduated from Seton Hall University in 1957 and would later earn an MBA at George Washington University.
Shortly after college, George was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Signal Corps and soon thereafter stationed in France. In 1959, he traveled Stateside briefly to marry Seton Shields. The couple returned to France where their two daughters were born. Later assignments included New Jersey, the DC Metropolitan area, Kansas, England, and Germany, as well as a tour in Vietnam, where his service ranged from extracting Marines from Khe Sanh to rebuilding destroyed villages. When one grateful village leader offered his own son in thanks, he politely declined and instead accepted a walking cane.
Of all his assignments, it was perhaps England that suited him best as George was an Anglophile and ardent admirer of Winston Churchill. So proper was his speech that it seemed at times he spoke with a hint of a British accent despite his NY-PA-NJ upbringing. And it was Germany where Barbara Palmieri, his wife of more than 40 years, entered the frame. They would have two sons, the elder of whom was bestowed with the middle name of Winston.
The balance of his life was centered in Northern Virginia where he retired out of the Pentagon as a colonel. There he raised his sons, launched and managed several businesses, and absorbed countless history books, sometimes re-reading them to glean further nuance. He had an encyclopedic recall for any form of history be it his own, the battle of the Somme, or the construction of Hadrian’s Wall. Other interests evolved over time and included photography, architecture (he largely designed his Great Falls home of several decades), landscaping, battlefield exploration, and geography. He remained “battle ready” in his later years, having to be discouraged, but never successfully dissuaded, from climbing ladders for home repairs into his 80s.
George was preceded in death by his parents and brother, Robert T. Smolenyak, and leaves his wife, Barbara, children, Megan, Stacy, Sean, and George, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. He will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.