August McColgan

[ Age 86 ] World War II veteran fought in the Battle of the Bulge and became a public relations officer for the military

October 30, 2006|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN REPORTER

August T. McColgan Sr., a decorated World War II veteran who went on to handle one of the Army's toughest public relations assignments, died of cancer Thursday at Stella Maris Hospice. The longtime Towson resident was 86.

Born in Baltimore, he graduated in 1938 from Mount St. Joseph High School. He joined the 5th Regiment of the Maryland National Guard in 1935 while still in school. When the Guard was called into federal service in 1941, he was assigned to train soldiers at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia.

In 1942, he married Mary Elizabeth Brown, whom he had met at a New Year's Eve party in 1941, according to his daughter, Nancy McColgan of Cockeysville.

By May 1944 he was an anti-tank officer with the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry. After the invasion of Normandy, he fought in four major campaigns across Europe. His unit was on the "Northern Shoulder" at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, as German forces surged westward to disrupt the Allied advance toward Germany.

In July 2000, Mr. McColgan toured the battlefield near Butenbach with three German veterans.

"Together we roamed the tree lines and the forest," he wrote in an online Dutch war journal after the visit. "They were just as dark, damp and foreboding as they were in 1944. ... We traded stories of action, success and failures. It was a sobering, although enlightening discussion of war and remembrance."

He was seriously wounded in January 1945, and was sent back to the United States to recuperate. After the war ended, he returned to Europe to serve with occupation forces at Bamberg, Germany. He later served briefly in Korea in a noncombat role.

For his wartime service, he earned the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, among other decorations.

In 1952, he was named public affairs officer with the Maryland Military District. He was later assigned to posts in Japan, Washington, Aberdeen Proving Ground and at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where he helped win public acceptance for missile tests in the Southwestern desert.

"We were successful," he later wrote, "because we told the truth and provided complete information. We held nothing back. There was no doubletalk, no innuendo."

After his retirement from active duty in 1963 as a lieutenant colonel, he was hired as the first civilian public affairs officer for the Test and Evaluation Command (TECOM) at Aberdeen. That job included responsibility for the command's public affairs programs across the continental United States, in Panama and in Alaska.

One of his greatest challenges was handling the public uproar that followed the deaths of 6,400 sheep in Utah in 1968. The incident was traced to the accidental release of the deadly nerve agent VX from the Army's remote Dugway Proving Ground.

In an August 2000 article noting Mr. McColgan's induction into the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame, Mike Cast, of the Developmental Test Command's public affairs office, wrote that Mr. McColgan persuaded the embarrassed TECOM brass to let him handle the public relations fallout at Dugway.

"His openness and honesty earned him great respect and trust," Mr. Cast wrote. "McColgan was able to turn a nightmare of a situation into a manageable episode that would not forever mar the Army's image in Utah."

In the same article, Mr. McColgan explained his approach: "The mentor I had in the early days used to say: `Mac, trying to cover up a bad story is like tying a skunk to a flagpole. The longer you leave it there, the more it's going to stink.'"

He retired from his job at Aberdeen in 1985.

He was a member of the American Legion post in Fullerton and the Long Green Council of the Knights of Columbus.

He was interested in World War II history and assisted with several books, including one on the Battle of the Bulge by Dutch writer Hans Wijers.

A funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. today at the Stella Maris chapel, 2300 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by two other daughters, Christine M. Rusk of Hydes and Mary E. Blackwell of Parkville; three sons, A. Thomas McColgan Jr. of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Brian F. McColgan of Atlanta and Michael P. McColgan of North Olmsted, Ohio; three brothers, Andrew McColgan of Atlanta, John McColgan of Ellicott City and Timothy McColgan of Baltimore; two sisters, Mary Surasky of Timonium and Patricia McGarrity of Baltimore; 10 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

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