Roger Baldwin Colton
Oral Vaulx Carter
October 20, 1917
Perhaps it is the current focus on military happenings that brings out the importance of our ancestors roll from past wars and the influence their lives might have had in forming our own lives.
It is not because of the high rank I picked the story on the life of Roger Baldwin for this issue but rather his involvement during a most crucial time of World War II.
Roger was born into the same family of the Reverend James Hooper Colton and Eloise (Avery) that included a sister, Elizabeth Avery Colton, who is the subject of another biography on this website.
Roger was the last of the eight children of this family, born 15 Dec 1887 in Jonesboro, Burke County, North Carolina. His father died when he was 6, and his mother passed away when he was 16. The Whitney cousins already were raising his brother, Henry Elliott, and they took him in after his mother died. They sent him to the Taft Preparatory School from where he graduated at age 19. They then loaned him money to attend Yale University. He worked summers to repay the loan and in 1908 he graduated from Yale, at age 22, with a Bachelor of Science degree from theYale Sheffield School of Science and a membership in the Sigma Xi and Theta Xi honorary societies.
Roger B. Colton (left) and brother Willoughy F. Colton, born 29 Aug 1883
(note dress clothes with bare feet)
Roger then went to California to work for his brother, James Hooper Colton, Jr. He answered an advertisement for college graduates to serve in the military services that led to his enlistment in the U.S. Army, at age 26, and he was assigned to the Coast Artillery and was commissioned a 2nd Lt. On 4 Nov 1910 and assigned to Ft. Monroe, VA for training and then on to Ft. Barrancas outside of Pensacola, FL.
In September of 1916 Roger B. Colton was promoted to the rank of Captain and assigned to duty at Ft. Hamilton, New York harbor, as a commander of a mine planting boat. With WW I raging in Europe an enterprising young woman was making motion picture short subjects for Brady Studios and decided it would be a proper time to make a short subject highlighting the military. The commanding officer at Ft. Hamilton sent Capt. Colton on the “Joseph Henry” to the Battery Park Dock at the foot of Manhattan where Miss Carter and her cameraman boarded the boat to make their movie and interview the Captain. Later, she told co-workers she thought the Officer was haughty and rather rude; she would call him “Lieutenant Lanky” as military titles and rank meant nothing to her.
The Captain must have felt differently as he was soon appearing at her home quite regularly. On 20 Oct 1917 Captain Roger Baldwin Colton and Ora Vaulx Carter were married. They would have a daughter, Shirley Carter Colton, born 26 Feb 1922 and this daughter would later become the wife of General Walter E. Lotz, Jr.
From Oct 1919 thru Jun 1920 Roger Colton attended M.I.T. in Cambridge, MA and earned his Master of Science degree 11 Jun 1920. After this he would go on to graduate from the Command & General Staff School and the Army War College. Roger would become a career Army man and his frequent moves, both in the U.S. and overseas, enabled him to visit most of his seven brothers and sisters at various times. His military career would span 35 years during which time he rose from a 2nd Lt. to a Major General. He would transfer to the Signal Corps. in 1930 as a Major, working his way thru the grades to Brigader General Jan 1942 and this is a period of time where he made great strides for our country leading up to and during WW II in the development of radar and communications.
Military observers were unanimous that the success of modern, fast-moving “blitz” tactics were directly linked to how efficient their communications systems were. Up to 1940 communications had been by messenger, signal flags, telephone and other signaling devices and had been adequate to meet the challenge of slow-moving military machinery. The German success in mechanized warfare, with lightning-like movements ranging over hundreds of miles, had given them a big advantage. If the United States were to function efficiently our Army would also have to have improved modern communications systems to coordinate ground, air, sea and armored forces. The problem was to find, procure, test and field such units under all conditions and to do all this post haste!
“Olmstead’s Baby”, as the project was called, was to find commercial and military parts already produced and make them work together. This was the concern of Col. Roger colton, chief of engineering and technical services at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. Working with Hallicrafters engineers the HT-4 was designed for amateur use and could deliver 325 watts of power on voice and 450 watts on code. Adapted to military use required minor changes, augmenting the basic unit with more electronic devices. The antenna problem was licked after much experimentation. A 1 ½ ton truck was required with dual operating systems for two operators who would be on duty at all times. A trailor unit was required to transport the gasoline generator that powered the transmitter, receivers and truck lighting. The two units had to be separated so mechanical vibrations as well as noise would not interfere with communications. This was known as SCR-299 mobile communications unit.
British generals Montgomery & Alexander used these successfully against the Germans in North Africa. For long periods it was the only means of communication linking Oran, to England, Casablanca, Gibralter, Algiers and Accra. General Dwight Eisenhower credited the SCR-299 for his successful reorganzation of the American forces and final defeat of the Nazis at Kasserine Pass, the invasion of Sicily and later Italy.
World War II proved good communications and split-second timing were crucial in overpowering Germany’s panzer units. Roger Colton had been right in the thick of this challenging development with good results! Now, almost 60 years later, our present means of cell phones, computors, and other electronic devices of communication makes the accomplishments of the 1940's seem archaic but without those developments at a most vulnerable time the history of WW II might well have had a different ending!
In Sep 1944 Roger transferred to the Army Air Force as Communications Officer of Technical Services. He was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medals for his technical and executive skills in development and supply to United States Forces of vital communications equipment despite critical shortages of materials.
Major General Colton retired from the Army Air Force 1 Feb 1946. He worked briefly as a consultant before he became Vice President of Federal Telephone & Telegraph, a subsidiary of International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT). He directed their Nutley, NJ Research Lab until 1951. Upon retiring from ITT he and wife Ora moved to Alexandria, VA. He died 24 Jan 1978 at age of 91. His wife lived until Jan 1992 and died at age 100.
Major General Roger Baldwin Colton
the Distinguished Service Medal
the Legion of Merit
September 20, 1946
I have never found any Colton who attained higher rank in the military than Roger Baldwin Colton. From a father who had served the Confederate forces during the Civil War, Roger has the distinction of having served in both WW I and WW II, bringing great honor to his country and to our surname of Colton.
This story would not have been possible without help from Shirley (Colton) Lotz of Sterling, Virginia and Roger Burnham Colton of Golden, Colorado. My thanks to them!
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