The Vassallo Interviews — Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor who interviews Oxford’s and our region’s leading personalities.
Steve said:”Oxford is truly attracting some outstanding individuals, maybe even more so than in years past. One of the most recent additions is retired naval officer Joe Skinner and his family. This interview took twice as long as the norm only because Captain Skinner’s background is fascinating! I need to emphasize that the opinions expressed by Captain Skinner are his exclusively and not reflective of any governmental entity. I shared with the Captain that during my lifetime, I have probably read 1000 resumes. His by far is the most impressive…to date!”
HottyToddy.com — Captain Skinner, please tell us a little about your background.
Captain Joe Skinner — I grew up in Plymouth, Michigan. While in high school, I reached the decision that I wanted a career in the military. I was accepted into the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. My family history goes back several generations with a military presence. My grandfather fought in the Spanish American War. I am a descendant of AP Hill. My great grandfather married AP Hill’s brother’s daughter.
HottyToddy.com— Your military background is nothing short of impressive!
Captain Joe Skinner — I spent 31 years in the U.S. Navy. I had many interesting and challenging assignments. The best was the Commanding Officer on the USS LOUISVILLE SSN 724, a fast attack nuclear powered submarine.
HottyToddy.com—You also were directly involved in some very high level international negotiations.
Captain Joe Skinner — That’s correct. I actually negotiated the first U.S. Navy warship to visit Vietnam following the war.
HottyToddy.com— What brought you to Oxford?
Captain Joe Skinner — My daughter (Chelsea) is a senior at Ole Miss and my wife’s sister teaches at the University. We moved here this April and like it a great deal.
HottyToddy.com — Your résumé is in a league of its own.
Captain Joe Skinner — It doesn’t hurt to be lucky. My philosophy is if you work hard, you will be rewarded for your efforts. I never worried about how to get promoted to the next rank, but instead on accomplishing my mission. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with many great people, the people in the military are second to none. I was able to visit 41 countries. I spent six years below water on submarines and 2 million miles in the air.
HottyToddy.com— Let’s shift gears and discuss several of the world’s “hot spots.” To begin with, let’s start with Taiwan.
Captain Joe Skinner — China considers Taiwan to be part of the Peoples republic of China and expected eventual reunification. Taiwan is not an ally of the U.S. simply because we do not have a treaty in place. What we do have is the Taiwan Relations Act which mandates the U.S. will remain ready to respond to a crisis in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and has demonstrated a Confuciusian society can be a democracy.
HottyToddy.com— The Gaza Strip.
Captain Joe Skinner — Israel has a right to defend itself. Like Taiwan, Israel is not an ally because there is no treaty in effect with the US. However, because of the enormous political support in the US, we could not abandon them.
Captain Joe Skinner — Someone referred to them as “An Empire Destroyer.” We have invested billions there and what did we accomplish? Democracy works best when the populous is educated. Women there are treated worse than livestock. I’m not sure if they could ever be a democracy when half their population is denied basic human rights.
HottyToddy.com— What is most important to U.S. foreign interests looking forward?
Captain Joe Skinner — Unfettered access to the international commons. By this I’m referring to access to the oceans, Internet and outer space.
HottyToddy.com — What is our greatest challenge ahead in the perspective of other nations?
Captain Joe Skinner — China would be No. 1, but we cannot ignore Russia. China is building a comprehensive military with over 2.2 million men in arms that are equipped with advanced military equipment. Additionally, China encourages piracy of intellectual property which costs the US billions of dollars a year. China needs to learn how to become a responsible nation as they increase their international influence.
HottyToddy.com— You have a great deal of experience with Vietnam. What can you share?
Captain Joe Skinner — They are a very hard working people. Eighty percent of their country was born after the war therefore the sentiment towards the U.S. is not entirely negative. It is a communist country with a capitalistic mentality.
HottyToddy.com— Don’t they dislike the Chinese more than Americans?
Captain Joe Skinner — The relationship is an adversarial one.
HottyToddy.com— Now that we’re on the subject of Vietnam, are there not parallels between our involvement here as in Afghanistan presently?
Captain Joe Skinner — Ho Chi Minh fought with us against the Japanese in WWII. When we would not press for their independence from the French following the war, that relationship soured. During the Vietnam War, he was fighting three battles, needing only to win two to be successful. These were against the U.S. military; keeping the Vietnamese people engaged; and convincing the civilians in the U.S. to abandon the war. In Afganistan I do not believe they have the leadership comparable to Ho Chi Minh, however they understand they they do not need to convince the civilians in the U.S. to abandon the war. The US government has clearly stated when we intend to leave. I do not believe the government in Afghanistan will survive once the U.S. pulls out and the Taliban will win two of the three battles and similar to Vietnam win the war.
HottyToddy.com— In discussing our navy, how do we compare worldwide?
Captain Joe Skinner — We have both the biggest and highest trained/skilled navy in the world today. We employ 10 super carriers that have a life expectancy each of 60 years. These are 90,000 tons of U.S. diplomacy. I would classify China as having the second largest navy, although the British would be second skill wise.
HottyToddy.com— My greatest fascination in American military history has to be Pearl Harbor. What actually happened?
Captain Joe Skinner — You must read the book, “At Dawn We Slept” if you want to know all the ‘in’s and out’s. At the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., we ran war games 20 years preceding Pearl. From this exercises over two decades the U.S. Navy considered all the possible options for combat in the Pacific. Additionally, we determined that Pearl was vulnerable to a Sunday morning surprise attack. We never thought Japan could attack us there, however, as we were more concerned with the threat of saboteurs. This was short sightedness on our part. We had actually intercepted communications to Japan from the islands highlighting coordinates of our ships in the harbor.
HottyToddy.com— Despite the element of surprise and the overwhelming cost of American lives and equipment, did not the Japanese fail overall in this attack?
Captain Joe Skinner — They made three strategic mistakes. We had two years worth of fuel present that was not destroyed. Secondly, our shipyard (repairs) was not damaged allowing us the opportunity to return 16 of the 19 damaged vessels to active duty. And third, our submarine force was not attacked. The submarine force was able to begin offensive operations immediately. Although the submarine force comprised 2 percent of the U.S. Navy, they sunk the most ships. By the end of the war the submarine force sunk 5 million tons of merchant shipping (80% of the merchant ships), six aircraft carriers a battle ship and scores of other war ships. The U.S. submarine force had the highest casualty rate of any warfare branch, losing over 30 percent of all men and submarines.
HottyToddy.com — What about the carriers?
Captain Joe Skinner — The two carriers were delayed returning to the harbor because of a storm. They had been to Wake Island delivering supplies. The Japanese mistakenly thought the Battleship Utah was one of the carriers. The Utah was a training ship and the deck was flat from having removed the guns.
HottyToddy.com — And the personal future of Joe Skinner looks like what?
Captain Joe Skinner — Teaching at Ole Miss. Possibly tutoring the athletes.
HottyToddy.com — What has been your most pleasant surprise since arriving in Oxford?
Captain Joe Skinner — How welcoming the community is. The people here are courteous and polite with a strong sense of national pride.
HottyToddy.com — Who was our greatest President?
Captain Joe Skinner — Washington. He set the standards for the future government.
HottyToddy.com — And your favorite WWII movie?
Captain Joe Skinner — “Midway.”
Final Note: Anytime I’m in the presence of someone as great as Joe Skinner, it makes me even prouder to be an American citizen. He has lived a life that others dream about. We can all sleep sounder each and every evening knowing there are literally thousands of others who are as dedicated to their jobs protecting this great nation as Joe. God bless America!
Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. In addition, he is a certified economic and community developer and currently, a highly successful leader in the real estate business with Premier Properties of Oxford. Steve’s lifelong dream has been to live in Oxford full-time. “I am now living my dream daily as is my wife Rosie, who works with the Oxford Chamber of Commerce,” Steve said. You can contact Steve at email@example.com or call him at 985-852-7745.
Retired Naval Commander, Oxford Resident, Discusses World Affairs, Pearl Harbor
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