By Mike Strasser, U.S. Military Academy Public AffairsMay 31, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. (May 30, 2012) -- There are three things 2nd Lt. Kevin Rutherford inherited from his father that mean the world to him.
There's the pair of Airborne wings Jan Rutherford once wore and pinned on his son's uniform upon completion of jump school, which Kevin completed nearly 30 years to the day after his father had earned them.
The second is the lieutenant bars his father had worn and presented to Kevin after graduating from West Point May 26 as a newly-commissioned officer.
But long before that Jan introduced Kevin to George Callahan, his former neighbor and mentor.
George is a retired Army officer and war veteran who became a lifetime friend of the Rutherfords. George had often provided sage advice to Jan, and years later Kevin would inherit his father's mentor.
George served under many West Point officers in his 30-year career from a young private to a seasoned chief warrant officer. Accompanied by his wife Trudy and daughter Kathy, this was George's first visit to the academy. He said the first officer he saluted following basic training on June 26, 1940, was Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. However, the salute rendered to Kevin following Saturday's ceremony, he said, would be the most meaningful.
"It's the highlight of my Army career to see Kevin graduate from West Point. Kevin is like a grandson to me," George, 90, said.
George had previously attended Kevin's high school graduation and they kept in touch during the cadet's 47-month stay at West Point.
"He's become a great mentor to me," Kevin said. "We managed to stay in touch while I was here. He has an incredible life story. He has given me a lot of good advice--the same he had shared with my dad when he was my age."
George's advice is practical, and both Kevin and Jan have said they've benefitted by its simple wisdom: learn to work with everybody, but don't expect to be everybody's friend, so choose your friends carefully. Also, when times are bad, take it day-by-day, then hour-by-hour and even moment-by-moment.
The latter Kevin had put to practice almost from the beginning at West Point. During that crucial transition phase from civilian to cadet called Beast Barracks, Kevin quickly learned how important it was not to only work with other new cadets, but to endure every challenge one day at a time.
"You just try to get through each day the best you can," Kevin said. "Eventually, it seems the weeks go by really quickly, but the days are long."
Kevin also applied the lessons of mentorship and leadership as a three-year member of the West Point Cycling Team.
"It was a great experience being able to develop myself as an athlete, and developing myself as a leader among peers," Kevin said. "You learn how to endure a lot of suffering from all the races and the conditions during those races were not always fun."
This year, Kevin assembled a Cyclecross team to compete in Nationals and placed third. The course is all off-road and the conditions are rough enough where there are often several crashes in the mud.
"For a team that had never competed in that style of racing before, I was really happy with the results," Kevin said. "It was a great experience."
It's hard to imagine a 5-year-old already committed to military service, but the story among the Rutherfords is that Kevin was influenced at that age by a documentary he saw on television about military academies. Jan said every Halloween Kevin would dress as a soldier. But his admiration of the military wasn't only about the uniform. When he was in third grade, Kevin began an annual bake sale to raise funds for the World War II Memorial and later the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
It also came as no surprise to the Rutherfords when Kevin chose to study military history at West Point.
"Kevin has been a history prodigy since he was a little kid," Jan said. "I was attracted to the Army because of the concepts of self-reliance. Kevin is attracted to the Army because of the history--he gets the context beyond his years."
As a history buff, it was only natural for Kevin to want to learn from George's experience.
"Kevin's experience with George has been nearly identical with mine, but Kevin can appreciate George's service even more because Kevin knows--really knows--the history," Jan said.
ABOUT GEORGE CALLAHAN
George was an 18 year-old high school graduate, stood 5-feet, seven inches tall, weighed 115 pounds and needed a filling in his tooth. It was 1940 and he decided to enlist in the Army--but not until he got that tooth fixed, the recruiter told him. It was competitive before the war and recruiters were very selective, George said.
George enlisted as a private in the Signal Corps at a time when no one believed the U.S. would be entering the war in Europe. As the nation was still recovering from the depression, it was apparent to him during basic training the Army was suffering from a lack of funding and supplies. During marksmanship training, George said Soldiers would go downrange and pick out the lead from the ground to recycle.
He was the first of four brothers to enlist and the others followed after the war started. On Dec. 7, 1941, George remembers being in The Strand Theatre when the movie was interrupted and all servicemembers were told to report back to their units.
"I went to the Holland Tunnel (in New York City), talked to the policeman on duty and asked him to check with people going toward Fort Monmouth (N.J.)--we looked for an M on the license plates (Monmouth County) and he stopped a car for me. I went to Fort Monmouth and was a drill sergeant and supply sergeant there. I had two jobs--each company would train its own men at that time, so you would have extra duties. Later, that system was outgrown, so there were bigger training camps like Fort Dix. When the draft started, they needed people to train the incoming troops, which is how I got to be a drill sergeant."
From there, George would report to Camp Crowder, Mo., to stand up the new 821st Signal Wire Operations Service Company. He was stationed there for two years.
"I figured I wanted to ship out of there to go with the overseas units, so I took a reduction in rank (from Tech Sgt. to Staff Sgt.) and I shipped out for the South Pacific," George said. "I got my rank back in Hawaii when they formed up a new company. We didn't know at the time exactly why they were there, but President (Franklin D.) Roosevelt, Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur and Adm. (Chester) Nimitz reviewed the troops."
George was in charge of battalion supply in the Pacific and served as one of the youngest master sergeants at the age of 23 when he received the promotion in Saipan.
"We were getting ready to go for the invasion of Japan when the bomb was dropped," George said.
At the end of the war, George had enough points to rotate back to the States, but he volunteered instead to stay in Europe. In 1946, while stationed in Germany, he met his future wife on a blind date.
He told her that he was a "30-year man," and if she wasn't interested in a career Soldier, the relationship wouldn't last. They married in August 1948 and will soon celebrate their 64th anniversary.
In March 1951, George became a warrant officer and was in Korea by year's end.
"When we got on the train from Pusan to Seoul, there was no heat and broken windows," George said. "I had two canteens and they both froze. I went to the east central front. We had Signal units spread around in different positions. One of them was to direct Navy gunfire."
Eventually, George would re-branch from Signal to Infantry and served with the 2nd Infantry Division, 37th Field Artillery. Among his career accolades, George completed Airborne School at the age of 42.
"I went through jump school with my entire battalion; it was the 187th Infantry," George said. "The Army started the 11th Air Assault test division at Fort Benning. This was a brand new concept and had never been tried before. Gen. John J. Hennessey was our battalion commander. We went to jumpmaster school together and were partners for our night jump. As soon as the unit proved this was a practical form of warfare, we put on our 1st Cav/Airborne patch and were sent to Vietnam in 1965. I served in the Central Highlands, An Khe and Pleiku. The 1st Cav was the first full-size division sent to the Central Highlands."
It was only a few years after his retirement when Chief Warrant Officer 4 George Callahan met 17-year-old Jan Rutherford. Jan's short, thin stature did little to diminish his determination to enlist, go to jump school and take the Special Forces Qualification Course, as he would later account in his book, "The Littlest Green Beret."
Jan was barely 19 years old when he earned his green beret and said George's encouragement was instrumental throughout his career.
"George was extremely positive and motivating and I found myself saying that I wanted to be like him," Jan said. "I still do."
George subscribed to the caveats of "Lead by example" and "Lead from the front." This meant never asking of a subordinate to do what he couldn't also do himself.
Even in the most stressful conditions, George said a leader should never ask a Soldier to advance into harm's way unless that leader is willing to take the same step forward. This is the advice he provided to Jan and later to Kevin, who will attend the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning, Ga., this summer, and then Ranger School.