The decorated Sgt. William Wood Skinner, Jr. (Class of 1946; non-graduate) was killed in action during World War II before he could graduate from Williams College.
Born on March 23, 1924 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Skinner was a descendant of Benjamin Skinner, one of the proprietors of Skinner’s Tavern in Williamstown and brother of T.J. Skinner, a trustee of Williams College and its first treasurer in 1793.
Skinner attended St. Paul Academy Country Day School and then entered Williams in October 1942. Before he was drafted in February 1943, Skinner had lettered in football and joined the Sigma Phi fraternity. His fraternity brothers said of him: “His college career was brief but well remembered for he was athletic, a good student, wore a perpetual smile and his good humor and gentility was of a quality that made it infectious.”
In February 1943, Skinner enlisted in the 10th Mountain Infantry Division, Company I. He trained at Camp Hale, Colorado until June 1944 and Camp Swift, Texas until December 1944. On January 2nd, he sailed from Norfolk, Virginia to Naples, Italy on board the S.S. West Point.
From Naples, Skinner traveled to the front lines north of Pisa. He was involved in the Battle of Mt. Belvedere and the final Italian push to the Po Valley was spearheaded by his 10th Division. Skinner was Sergeant in charge of a mortar unit at the time of his death. For his service, he was decorated posthumously with the Bronze Star Medal. The official citation from the War Department reads:
For heroic achievement in action on 14 April 1945, near Castel d’Aiano, Italy. In the initial phase of a major attack by mountain infantrymen on firmly held enemy mountain emplacements, Sergeant Skinner displayed outstanding leadership, keen tactical ability, and unflinching courage in the face of all hazards so that the success of his unit’s mission was more assured and all men afforded a high inspiration. When attacking elements became pinned down by the intensity of the enemy fire, Sergeant Skinner moved his mortar squad to a position to obtain more effective fire lanes, and moving in advance of his men, he took his post as observer. Finding that from his location he could not observe the burst of his fire, he made his way forward during the height of the enemy action, and in spite of the protests of his comrades, assumed an exposed position where he so capably directed the fire of his squad that an entire enemy pocket was wiped out and another made useless by the ferocity of the barrages. While in this dangerous area, an enemy sniper seriously wounded Sergeant Skinner causing almost instant death. His extraordinary bravery, high regard for duty, and fortitude displayed in these actions have set a great standard for future performances and justly merit sincere praise and respect as qualities indicative of the finest traditions of the United States Army.
By Jaime Margalotti (Williams Class of 2000)
WWII-Deceased: Skinner, William Wood, Jr. file. William Ozmun Wyckoff Papers. Williams College Archives.
Catalogue of the Sigma Phi . Burlington, VT: Champlain Printers, 1949.