Colby Symposium message: You can affect history

“One person changed history,” explained the 2015 William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium (Colby) award winner.

Biographer Col. Douglas V. Mastriano, Ph.D., was referring to the man in his book “Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne,” for which he was unanimously awarded the 2015 William E. Colby Award.  

Mastriano spent two days at Norwich University during the 20th Anniversary Colby Symposium, speaking with students and taking part in an open forum along with other authors as they discussed not only their books but also concerns of national security as part of the event.

The symposium wrapped up at the Meet the Authors’ Dinner on April 9 at Plumley Armory with the presentation of the award to Mastriano and a celebration of the 20-year milestone of the annual event. .

Telling the tale of Alvin York while trying to inspire hope in the next generation of leaders, Mastriano explained that the actions of one person can affect the course of history.

“This is one hillbilly (York) with a drinking problem from nowhere Tennessee, who decided on an important day in 1915 that he was going to live life differently and with God’s, help he did.”

“That one person could be you,” said Mastriano. “That can be you.”

York’s legacy became part of US military lore and enshrined in history during World War I on a fateful day in 1918, when all odds were stacked against him and his platoon, explained Mastriano.

“Taking great responsibility upon himself Sgt. York outflanked the German machine guns, killed 19 German soldiers around the machine gun, including infantry men, came back down the hill, faced a German bayonet attack, shooting Germans from back to front, and in the end forced the Germans to capitulate and captured 132 altogether,” he said. The result was “Saving the 82nd infantry and 82nd Airborne from a defeat,” Mastriano said.

Celebrating its 20th year, the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium was back at Norwich University for two days with lectures from the authors and a panel discussion.

The program was designed to expose students, faculty, staff, alumni and the public to authors, historians, journalists and national figures. It aspires “to educate, enlighten and inspire,” according to

The topic covered during the panel discussion this year was, ‘Cyber-Warfare and Privacy: How do we keep the balance between the rights of citizens and the security of the nation?”

Guest speakers were Lewis “Bob” Sorley, author and former CIA Chief of Policy and Plans Division; Cheri Caddy, Director for Cybersecurity Policy Integration and Outreach, National Security Council, the White House; Peter Stephenson, Director, Center for Advanced Computing and Digital Forensics and Director, Global Cyber Threat Observatory. The forum was moderated by Col. Stephen Pomeroy, USMC (Ret.)

The Colby Symposium began back in 1995 and was originally called the Norwich Military Writers Symposium, said Carlo D’Este a US Army lieutenant colonel (retired) and a highly regarded military historian.

D’Este received his bachelor’s degree from Norwich University in 1958, a master’s degree from the University of Richmond in 1974, and an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Norwich in 1992.

“Among those on our first panel were (author) Phil Caputo and also former CIA director William E. Colby, who was the real star in that first symposium,” D’Este said. “William E. Colby passed away two weeks following the first event.”

Although the attendance to the first event was not high, the importance of the education gained from the symposium is what kept contributors to the program going, according to D’Este.

“It was really I think through the motto of this university, I will try, that we looked very seriously that we needed to continue this program no matter what it took,” said D’Este.

Throughout the years there have been over 100 writers who have come to Vermont to the Norwich campus in a continuous effort to provide the university’s students with a different take on their potential careers, said D’Este.

Certainly the death of Bill Colby spurred us to rename this symposium in his honor. But we could not have succeeded without all of the hard work, without more than 100 authors, journalists, biographers, military historians, you name it who have come here to Norwich to try to help educate and inspire the men and women of this university.”

Ed Tracy served as Executive Director of the Colby Symposium from 1995 through 2005. Tracy is an award-winning television and webcast producer, writer and program host.

“It was Ed Tracy who fostered and brought forth the idea of renaming the event in his honor,” said D’Este. “The Colby simply would never have succeeded without Ed Tracy’s dedication and initiative.”

In 1995, with W.E.B. Griffin, Carlo D’Este and the late William E. Colby, along with Ed Tracy, they established the first Military Writers’ Symposium at Norwich. And, “We are pretty darn proud of where we have come and where we hope to keep going,” D’Este said.

Tracy explained that “the Colby symposium has always been a place where we could learn from the authors, we could learn from the people who started this with Bill Colby.” According to Tracy, Colby “graciously came to the first program and wanted to be and accepted the challenge of being the centerpiece.”

Col. Reinhard M. Lotz, US Army (Ret.), ’60, shares this passion for the Colby and looks forward to the future. “Every one of you out there I hope has a passion and you should have more than one,” said Lotz. “One of my passions is Norwich University.”

Lotz love of Norwich includes personally knowing “every president since Ernie Harmon.” He expressed his gratitude to the university and President Richard Schneider.

“He has been instrumental in approving the bylaws, which we are going to have our first meeting on Friday to try to organize a group of people who will enrich and enhance the Colby program, helping it propel into the 21st century.”

The emphasis on education was evident throughout the evening as Lotz directed part of his speech to students in attendance and explained their help was needed as well.

“These things are important to our students here at Norwich and we want student participation. And we want people outside the current Norwich community,” Lotz said.

“It’s a tough job to try to get programs that are meaningful for the students,” he said, noting the goal was to “enrich their lives, to let them think outside the box in this difficult world we live in today.”

The evening concluded as Andrew L. Knauf, the Colby Symposium director, spoke about just how much the world has changed due to technology.

This year has marked for us a kind of new angle in that we have left aside more traditional questions of tactics, strategies, individual trials, Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS, to question whether a proper balance can be found between a citizen’s right to privacy and the nation’s need for information,” Knauf said.

Being versatile in the newly changing world, “we know we can embrace or confront the pleasant and the distasteful and join the protections afforded by an open society,” Knauf said.

“They (students) need to appreciate the questions lying in ambush for every text; Cyber security is just another way of reminding us to look under the pillows, to question the evidence and stay leery of the conclusions,” Knauf said.

The lasting message Mastriano hoped to pass to the students is that anyone can, and will, make a difference even in an ever-changing world where threats to peace seem more prominent.

“Despite a re-emerging threatening Russia, despite a rising China, despite troubles over moral decline, there is hope. And that hope is right here in this room and I am looking to each one of you to make a difference. You can and you will make a difference,” Mastriano said.

Having spent two days around the Norwich campus, Mastriano was impressed with the quality of students Norwich is preparing for the world.

“There are points of light and darkness and that point of light is here with the Corps and students, seriously you guys give me hope,” Mastriano stated. “I look across especially the students here in the Corps and the regular students and you can make a difference.”


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