Following the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2021 Graduation Ceremony Saturday, friends and family convened at the Boylan household at West Point to continue the right of passage into officership for USMA Class of 2021 Cadet Tully Boylan as he readied himself to don the bars of a second lieutenant on the shoulders of his uniform as family members have done before him.
“This is going to seem weird at first, but you just have to bear with me,” Col. Gregory Boylan, the executive officer to the Superintendent, said to the family and friends who sat before him as he readied his speech.
“All right, everybody, close your eyes. I’m going to talk and I’ll tell you when to open them,” Gregory asked.
Everyone closed their eyes with curious smiles on their faces. Then, Gregory began.
“West Point played a crucial role in keeping the new United States from falling to the British. For the area became known for its famed military academy. West Point is located on a plateau, on the west bank of the Hudson River, approximately 60 miles north of New York City,” Gregory said. “It is 1781. George Washington has called the fortified site quote ‘the most important post in America,’ and he worked to keep patriot control of West Point throughout the Revolutionary War.”
Gregory added how George Washington understood the strategic importance West Point had and knew that safeguarding the fortress would mean the difference between American liberty or British occupation.
“Now, everyone open your eyes,” Gregory said.
Everyone opened their eyes to the lush green mountains that hugged the shores of the Hudson River — taking in the picturesque site Washington observed over 200 years ago.
This private moment between family and friends underscored the impact of Gregory’s message regarding the revolutionaries that fought valiantly under Washington’s command to hold West Point preventing British control of the area and dividing the colonies.
Furthermore, this historic act by Washington set forth the history of family lineages that would grace the academy with their unyielding desire to serve and continue operating not only to secure the Hudson River but the nation as a whole.
The many historical lineages that formed within the stone fortress contributed two-plus centuries worth of service to the preservation of the country, creating a multitude of traditions and memories.
With that, etched in West Point’s stone walls is the spirit of unique memories that belong to the surnames “Costa” and “Boylan.” For those family names have created a legacy that left their collective mark of service engraved throughout the country’s history spanning 76 years and counting.
It began in 1949, when John J. Costa, Gregory’s uncle on his mother’s side, became the first in his family to commission out of West Point and served as the head of the Department of Foreign Languages, Gregory said.
“Prior to attending West Point, Costa served as a navigator on a bomber during World War II,” Gregory explained. “When he retired in 1989, he was the last World War II veteran on active duty.”
Connecting the thread of service, retired Maj. Gen. Peter Boylan Jr. II, USMA Class of 1961, recalled the year 1956 when he joined the U.S. Army. He had spent eight months in active service before he received a telegram from his congressman who had appointed him to West Point.
“My physical performance was average. However, academically, I made the Dean’s list all four years while at the academy and one of the most important things I took away from that experience is there were people who were brighter than I, stronger than I, who had more virtue than I — character if you will, and I learned if I was going to succeed, I had to be as good as those cadets,” Boylan Jr. II said. “As I matured and after I left the academy, I knew I was not the best and brightest.”
As the years passed during Boylan Jr. II’s tenure as an officer, the legacy thread extended to his oldest son Peter Boylan III, USMA Class of 1984; his daughter Anne Michele Bell, USMA Class of 1986; and Gregory Boylan, USMA Class of 1994, respectively.
Bell’s experience at West Point presented many challenges. She started her tenure two years after the first 62 female cadets graduated out of the academy. Being a woman during the early stages of West Point’s male/female integration was challenging enough, but another obstacle presented itself that she initially, at the time, did not foresee.
“During my yearling year, my dad moved up here as the Commandant for the Corps of Cadets,” Bell said.
Despite walking on eggshells during her tenure, Bell’s experience at West Point taught her the importance of humility, destroying negative stereotypes of female service members and the overall importance of being a mentor and leader. And with her daughter, Class of 2023 Cadet Mary Bell, following in her footsteps, those virtues now impact her more than ever before.
“I think the thread is dad and mom. For me, they were the quintessential military couple and it permeated through everything the family did because dad’s success (and he’ll tell you this) is equally due to mom and what she did supporting the family,” Bell said. “Dad has this saying of putting your chips in a bucket. For example (metaphorically speaking), how well you do in your physical fitness test is determined by the chips you’ve put in this bucket. So, if you did not put enough chips in the pushup, situp or running bucket, you’re not going to perform well. That’s the thread father created for all of us and now it continues through our kids, so it’s almost a thread, if you will, of character that he’s established.”
What Costa and Boylan Jr. II started during the post-World War II era became manifested 76 years later when Tully stood in between Gregory Boylan and his mother Colleen as they pinned second lieutenant bars on his shoulders. Following this, he stood before his father and swore the oath of office as a newly commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.
“I feel a lot of excitement and a sense of readiness. My experience at West Point cultivated me as a leader. I’ve gone through the four years of rigors and challenges and I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person, as a leader of character and as a member of the military,” Tully said. “I feel like I’ve learned so much and now I want to get out there and give back to the people and serve. I’m ready to take that next step and do what my forefathers have done before me.”
Tully is now a third-generation infantryman and will be a third-generation “Devil in Baggy Pants” in the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 82nd Airborne Division — a regiment that Gregory and Boylan Jr. III served in and which Tully’s grandfather commanded, Gregory said.
“My whole life has been one of the concepts that I picked up as a cadet here of duty, honor country. And I couldn’t be more proud of the fact that my children and my grandchildren have grasped that and have endeavored to live their lives according to those three words,” Boylan Jr. II said. “Those three words have made a profound difference on my life.
“It’s the way that I’ve acted out during combat and in other arenas throughout my military service and I’m just grateful that my children and grandchildren have absorbed that same concept and are willing to act it out. I’m truly fortunate,” he concluded.