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Posted on Mar 26, 2008 in Carlo D'Este, Stuff We Like

Practicing History: The William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium

By Carlo D'Este

The purpose of the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium is to expose Norwich students, faculty, alumni and the public to the works and views of authors, historians, journalists and national figures to educate, enlighten, and inspire. Each of the participants come to Norwich each year for two reasons: to make a difference in the lives of our students through their interaction in a variety of lectures, social functions and the innovative in-class sessions which make up the heart of the program; and to interact with each other to further the debate on current issues of interest. They receive no compensation—they do it because they share our goals.

In April 1997, our experimental program became the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium, now known nationally as “The Colby.” At the formal dedication ceremony a Who’s Who in military writing was on hand to participate in one of the most stimulating programs in our 13-year history. Joining us were Tom Clancy, Steven Coonts, Harold Coyle, Winston Groom, Fred Chiaventone and Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan to address the topic of Military Fiction in America. Also joining us in 1997—and at virtually every event since—was Bill Colby’s son, Paul, who has been a stalwart supporter and devoted friend of the University.


Since then the Symposium has grown to the national prominence that it enjoys today. Standout moments over the years include: satellite telephone discussions with war correspondents Sean Naylor from Afghanistan in 2002 and Rick Atkinson from Baghdad in 2003 on the day the Iraqi capital fell (the same week that Rick received the Pulitzer Prize for his fine book, An Army At Dawn); after-dinner remarks by author Phil Caputo our first year recalling his poignant memories of his friend and Norwich grad, Walter Levy (Class of ‘64), who was the first Norwich graduate killed in action in Vietnam; our three public broadcasting television programs—two moderated by CNN’s Frank Sesno—our C-Span Book TV appearances from the National Press Club and the new Pritzker Military Library in Chicago.

Since the program’s inception the Colby has hosted some of the brightest names in the business. As we celebrate the 13th Colby Symposium, we do so in the knowledge that the world has changed significantly since its inception—and so has our program. We have never avoided the hard issues that are central to the public’s understanding, and the 2008 program is the latest example of our commitment to making the Colby a relevant and meaningful experience.

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