In Memoriam – Colonel Robert K. Sawyer, US Army

Bob Sawyer (the father) was a close friend.  I was lucky enough to have several mentors and "fathers" in life, our dad, uncle John, Doctor Les Upton and Colonel Robert K. Sawyer.  I learned belatedly today that he is buried in Arlington beside his son, Captain Kenneth R. Sawyer killed in Vietnam in 1969.

Colonel Sawyer was of old Yankee stock, as was his beloved wife Eleanor.  He enlisted in the 26th Division (Massachusetts Army National Guard) after high school. He was called up for WW2 and received a battlefield commission in Normandy.  In acknowledgement of the quality of his leadership, he retained command of the rifle platoon in which he had been platoon sergeant.  In Korea he became a legend as a leader of reconnaissance troops.  I knew him and Ellie in Turkey where I learned much of what I know of soldiering from him.  Eventually he was chief of defense HUMINT, a job I held after him.

In retirement, he played the cello beautifully, painted splendidly in oils and earned successively a BA, MA and Ph.D in literature from the University of New Hampshire. He and Ellie lived happily at Bow Lake for a long time..

He was "a perfect, gentle knight."  pl

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16 Responses to In Memoriam – Colonel Robert K. Sawyer, US Army

  1. Bobo says:

    Sorry to hear of your loss. A Mentor is not replaceable though his teachings will live forever.
    It warmed my heart to see the Yankee Division patch on this site. My father was another Sergeant in the YD, 104th, Company L, 2nd Platoon, 3rd squad. He got caught in the Trap at Rodalbe, though he did not call it a trap. Hopefully he met your Mentor at one time.

  2. Patrick Lang says:

    I think Bob might have been in the 101st Infantry Regiment of the YD, although at this range I am not sure. He told me that the most crushing experience of his life (next to the death of his son, Kenneth), was the occasion in eastern France or western Germany when some Heer outfit. like maybe the 116th Panzer Division lurked with its remaining 35 tanks behind a hill mass until Bob’s regiment exposed a flank and then it swept around into that flank and then out the other side killing half his company and many of his high school classmates in the process. He carefully drew me a diagram of the action on the back of a napkin at lunch. The two ridges held by the Germans were depicted as concentric ovals, one two hundred yards farther east than the other. The Germans waited until the two American infantry regiments attacking side by side went forward. They withdrew skilfully giving just enough resistance so that it was convincing, then when Bob’s regiment moved up to the base of the farther hill the tanks behind the forward hill rolled into the gap between the two regiments and out the other side. Masterful. He looked like he did not hate them for that. A better man than me. pl

  3. walrus says:

    Col. Lang,
    I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sure that you will do everything in your power to ensure that his example is passed on to younger generations.
    Inadequately, Walrus.

  4. Neil Richardson says:

    Dear Col. Lang,
    I am sorry for your loss. FWIW, I once had the pleasure of reading COL Sawyer’s work on the early years of KMAG. For decades his book was the only source available in English on this period (other than James Hausman’s unpublished manuscript). I suppose many at CGSC are starting to look for his work nowadays.
    My condolences

  5. Patrick Lang says:

    He wrote that book when assigned to the Office of the
    Chief of Military History. pl

  6. diochoa says:

    Like Chaucer a man from a different time and place.

  7. Charles I says:

    Sorry for your loss, Pat. We have obviously enjoyed the fruits of Colonel Sawyer’s mentorship too.
    Thanks for sharing. I love to hear of the other sides of all you gentle knights in between war stories. It tilts at all my ignorance and prejudices, and channels the vignettes. The depth of your and your peers’ education and breadth of your cultured humanity afford us hoi polloi priceless context whilst boosting your own oft-cranky stock to new heights, and us to new horizons. Thanks to Neil Richardson and Bobo today too.
    We had thread here last year where some of us described mentory paternal affect for you Pat, filtered through a keyboard and screen. So I extend my printed love and sympathy to you today, and condolences to Col. Sawyer’s family and peers.

  8. For Whom the Bell Tolls?

  9. Patrick Lang says:

    At the risk of having some neocon nut accuse him and me of sympathy for the Nazis, I will mention that in the period just after WW2 Bob was assigned to the unit in Germany that had custody of captured senior German officers. These men were held for a couple fo years while it wa sorted out if they were just soldiers or people who needed to be dealt with in de-Nazification courts. While they were waiting the US Army asked them to write up what they had learned from the war experience. Some of the monographs are quite valuable. In the course of that duty Bob came to know Colonel General Franz Halder well. Halder had been chief of the Great General Staff of the Heer. They looked alike, and Halder, who had been fired by Hitler in 1942 for a lack of enthusiasm, began, after a time, to tutor Sawyer, the officer in command of his guards in the military art. Bob and I talked endlessly of what Halder had said. Much of it was technical in a way that Clausewitz would have liked I think but one piece of career counsel from Franz Halder I would pass on to the soldiers who read here.
    He said: “Whatever you are given to do, do it well, to the best of your ability, however meaningless you may think it. If you do that, you will be given something better to do.”
    This had nothing to do with the Nazis and their agenda. pl

  10. Dave Wilkinson says:

    I would like to make contact with Bobo whose father served with Company L of the 104th. My father Clyhe Willinson was a BAR man in Company K and was captured at Rodalbe. My son and I will be going there in July, 2010. My father’s written records of what he experienced are very incomplete. I would like someone to compare notes on of what happened 12, 13 November, 1944. Dave Wilkinson

  11. Elderly people deserve a quality of life in old age. They have been people who have forged this effort and dedication we are living today. We offer the best of us and restore all the good they have done for our country

  12. Terribly sorry for your loss. Colonel Sawyer indeed truly was a warrior and a genius!

  13. A hero that must be proud of. Sorry for your loss.

  14. Bob Sawyer, Jr. says:

    Eleanor Sawyer, beloved wife, joined her husband and their son in the hereafter life on February 9, 2013. I am sure my Dad is overjoyed to be reunited with the love of his life.

  15. turcopolier says:

    Bob Sawyer, Jr.
    Sorry to hear of her passing. your parents were two of the best people we have known. Is she buried at Arlington as well? she must have been about 90? Marguerite and I remember meeting you and your brother in Izmir. are you the redheaded one or the blond? I have a painting that your Dad did. It is a composition made up of various things in my life. Beautiful, just beautiful. pl

  16. Bob Sawyer, Jr. says:

    Sorry for the REALLY late response. Yes, My mother is buried at Arlington with my Dad. I’m neither the blond or redhead you met in Izmir. They are my younger bothers, Pete and Bill. I had just gotten married and never made it to Izmir.

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