Family legacy of service spans decades
November 13, 2012
FORT MEADE, Md. -- It's amazing how things come full circle by the simplest of happenstances.
Earlier this year when Kevin Colyer received his maternal grandfather Lt. Col (retired) Robert David Orcutt's Army Class A uniform and other memorabilia from his Army career, he wanted to create a shadow box to honor his grandfather. But what he found was something that connects his present to his grandfather's past. And it made him not only remember, but want to know more.
Initially drafted during World War II as an orthodontist, Orcutt, stayed in the Army Reserves until his retirement in 1965. He died in 1997 at the age of 97. When Colyer went through his grandfather's uniform pockets, he found a small, yellow card.
"I was shocked. I immediately scanned it and sent it directly to Maj. Gen. (Kevin) Wendel and Lt. Gen. (J. Mick) Bednarek because I was so excited. I wanted to figure out how he was connected to First Army," Colyer remembered.
The small yellow card was Orcutt's Code of Conduct Card, issued by First Army. Colyer, now a colonel, is the commander of the 188th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East.
"I have no idea when he received this, but he kept it in his jacket pocket none the less," said Colyer.
This wasn't the first time Orcutt's and Colyer's military service crossed.
According to statistics compiled by the Pew Research Center last year, today's Soldiers are more likely to have followed a family member into the military. The survey showed approximately 79 percent of veterans have an immediate family member who served. Colyer is at least the third generation: his grandfather served in the Army Reserves, his father served 26-years in the Navy. Going into the 'family business' -- the military -- was Colyer's first choice of career.
"When I graduated from high school, my grandfather had already retired from the Reserves, but my father was a (Navy) captain still on active duty," he said.
Colyer went on to say his eyesight was not good enough to get into naval aviation, and he was not very interested in any other position with the Navy, so he sought out other avenues.
"My grandfather taught me to shoot; I really loved shooting, and since he had been in the Army, it wasn't a foreign idea," Colyer remembered.
Colyer enlisted after high school and served three years as a combat engineer. He graduated Cum Laude from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1988 and receiving his commission into the Army as a Military Intelligence officer.
"I asked my grandfather to commission me along with my father because I thought it would be great to have three generations of service together at one time," Colyer said.
Orcutt's service played a large role in his life, and Colyer's even after Orcutt retired.
"He always stayed in shape and had a disciplined manner. I don't remember him doing PT (physical training), but somehow he was always in good shape. I remember he demonstrated how to do headstands with my sister when he was 75," Colyer said.
"He was on the Army shooting team at some point, and he maintained a variety of antique and black powder guns that he loved to shoot. He was a great shot (he taught me to shoot), and I have his M1911 service pistol," Colyer said. "I think he was proud of serving."
"I can tell you that when I met him he was a lieutenant colonel in the Reserves, and he was very proud of his service," said Colyer's father, Navy Capt (Retired) Thomas James Colyer. "After the Army-Navy game each year, the loser between the two of us would call the winner and relay a congratulations. It became habit for me to address him as "Sir" on that one occasion each year, and then when I made 0-6 (Captain), he used "Sir" just that once and never again at my request. He was always Sir to me."
Colyer said his grandfather stayed in the Reserves after the war not out of a need for a job, but because he was proud to serve and had sense of civic duty. And while Colyer, his father and Orcutt are the only ones who made the military a career, they weren't the only family members who carried on that proud tradition of serving.
"My grandfather had three daughters and one son. His son, my uncle, enlisted in the Army and served three years or so in the Reserves as a combat engineer. His middle daughter, my aunt, married a man who enlisted in the Marine Reserves for a short time as well. My mother met my father when he was a plebe at Annapolis… on a blind date to the Army/Navy football game," said Colyer.
Orcutt taught Colyer more than just shooting.
"Basically, he taught me not to let fear hold you back from doing something you wanted to do...and the good example of staying disciplined and in shape," said Colyer a graduate of the Army's Special Forces Qualification Course, Airborne School, Parachute Jumpmaster Course and Air Assault School..
"I completed the SF Qualification course in 1996. When I went home for Christmas that year we went to see my grandfather--about 3 months before he died. I took my green beret and wore it when I saw him, because other than my own father, my grandfather was the one other person I wanted to show the beret to. I knew in some way he could understand," Colyer said.
Orcutt lived to be 92 and was still driving at 91. Colyer believes is his grandfather's kidneys had not given out on him he would have probably have lived longer.
"He didn't share a lot of stories about the American POWs he worked on; most of his stories about Americans were from his year in Newfoundland where he worked on injured Navy and Marine servicemen that were brought in by ship. He shared a lot of stories though, about going into Auschwitz, and some of the other extermination camps and POWs camps at the end of the war. He worked on some of the German POWs and Jews. Those experiences seemed affect him more," Colyer said.
If he could thank his grandfather for one thing, Colyer said it would the example he set.
"He lived integrity, fearlessness, discipline, joy, an active lifestyle, and he never passed on an opportunity to teach, coach, and mentor his grandchildren -- in a loving manner - not from
an ego driven controlling manner," Colyer emphasized.
After Orcutt retired from his orthodontist practice, he took his skills at handcrafting dental work and used them on wood working.
"He was always active, doing something. When you visited him, even in his late 80s, he would take you shooting or show something he was working on in his wood working shop. He also played the electric organ...that is something none of us will forget," Colyer remembered.
Finding the Code of Conduct card made Colyer want to know more about grandfather's service. He and his mother have requested his grandfather's service record to find out when his path crossed with First Army. Colyer looks forward to continuing the journey into finding out more about his grandfather.