Vietnam veteran was devoted to country, fellow service members
The two years Skip Hornbake spent with the Marines during the Vietnam War were just the beginning of a life of service.
“He never stopped serving his country,” said son Thomas Gauthier. “He always felt he had to give back, donate time, money and anything he could. He would always reach out to other veterans.”
A history buff who collected dozens of military uniforms, he donated one of them to the family of a late World War II veteran who wanted to see their loved one laid to rest in attire reflecting his service.
“He was no-nonsense, but he had the biggest heart,” said son Corey Hornbake. “Most people would know him as a really genuine guy — what you see is what you got.”
Alan W. “Skip” Hornbake Jr., 69, of North Huntingdon, died Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, at his home. Born May 2, 1950, in Charleroi, he was a son of the late Alan W. Sr. and Vi Hornbake.
Mr Hornbake’s interest in military service was inspired, in part, by his father and mother — who served in the Army and Navy, respectively, during World War II. Gauthier said his father also decided to enlist, on June 18, 1968, because “he lost a friend in high school who went to Vietnam and died.”
Before ending his stint with the Marines as a corporal, Mr. Hornbake served as a “tunnel rat” on the front lines of combat in Vietnam.
“He didn’t talk about it a lot,” said Gauthier, who was inspired by his father to serve 20 years in the Navy. “The (North) Vietnamese would always tunnel underground. He wasn’t large. He was about 5’ 8” and weighed 140 pounds, so they would send him in to look for the Vietnamese.
“Most tunnel rats just went in with a pistol and a knife.”
A member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in North Huntingdon, Mr. Hornbake was “one of the most patriotic people you would ever meet,” said his wife, Teresa. He flew a U.S. flag in his yard and saluted it every day.
His connection to fellow veterans remained an important part of his life. He was a member of the White Oak VFW post and of the Marine Corps Veterans Association and its Honor Guard, which performs military rites at area veterans’ funerals.
In the latter role,“he did burials for a lot of World War II veterans, hundreds,” said Gauthier. “He did a lot on the weekends, and he would also take vacation days from work.”
Mr. Hornbake’s civilian career had a military connection. He worked 42 years for defense contractor Bechtel Bettis in West Mifflin. His job as a senior field inspector involved visiting Navy nuclear submarines, according to Gauthier.
In addition to his wife of 36 years, Mr. Hornbake is survived by three sons, Brian Smith of San Diego, Calif., Thomas Gauthier and his wife, Susan, of Gibson, and Corey Hornbake and his wife, Jansen, of Lafayette Hill; six grandchildren.
Parting prayers will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Ott Funeral Home, 805 Pennsylvania Ave., Irwin, followed at 9:30 a.m. by a Mass of Christian Burial in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.
Interment will follow in Penn Lincoln Memorial Park, North Huntingdon.
Memorial donations may be made to the Vietnam Veterans of America, 8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100, Silver Spring, MD 20910, www.vva.org.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .