June 1, 1982 - February 17, 2006
Eric was born on June 1, 1982 in Gettysburg PA to John and Susan McColley. He was the younger of two children, having an older sister, Cheryl. While his personality traits continued to develop until the time of his death, his red hair was evident from the beginning. His fierce sense of loyalty, humor and respect along with his willingness to serve his country were the traits that set Eric apart.
Eric's education began at Eisenhower Elementary School and culminated with his graduation from Gettysburg Senior High, with the Class of 2000. While never on the Honor Roll, Eric was always a solid student - though very independent. Grade school teachers to this day will remark to his parents what a special individual he was. Bill Foreman, Eric's grade school principal was among the first to call on the McColley Family at their home after Eric's death and among the many that spoke at his memorial service; a true testimony to the long lasting impression Eric left on people. Bill Forman remains a close friend to this day.
Eric had many interests in his short life: love of the outdoors, scouting, swimming, and fishing were important activities to him from an early age. His interest in scouting continued throughout his life and culminated when he earned, and was awarded, the rank of Eagle Scout in the year 2000. Swimming was among the sports attracted Eric and he swam competitively from fourth grade through his senior year of high school when he was co-captain of the boy's varsity swim team. Through swimming, Eric developed an interest in scuba diving, and would eventually earn his diving certification during his senior year of high school. North Carolina, California, Okinawa and Guam were among the places he loved "getting wet". He enjoyed little more than the opportunity to call home and tell his father that the water temperature in Guam at 150 feet was the same as it was on the surface, 80 degrees.
His love for fishing grew into a love for the entire outdoors. Rock climbing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, and paint ball were all activities Eric thoroughly enjoyed. At roughly the age of ten, Eric and his father were fishing one evening on a farm pond. His father was constantly correcting Eric's approach - the young man was beating the waters edge into a froth with his lure. His father warned him that he would scare all the fish. That was until he took a few quick steps back and pulled a six pound large-mouth bass onto the bank. The fish struck only out of anger as it had a large perch still in it's throat.
At the age of 14 he began to work as a life guard at the Gettysburg YWCA and the Gettysburg Country Club. It was during this period that he taught many of the area youth to swim. In addition he worked with the Red Cross teaching CPR.
In the fall of 1999 Eric enlisted in the Marine Corps and reported to MCRD, Parris Island, South Carolina, for recruit training in August of 2000 and graduated on November 10, 2000. It was while driving off the island, following his graduation, that he remarked that he wanted a University of Parris Island bumper sticker, a business venture his father carries on to this day. Upon graduation Eric received the rank of Private First Class and reported to Pensacola, Florida, for training in his primary 6048 MOS.
During his service, Eric was stationed at MCAS, Miramar, San Diego, with the 101st Fighter Squadron, Okinawa, Japan with MALS 36, and New River, North Carolina with HMH 464, 461 and HMM 263. It was while attached to 263 that Eric was deployed with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom II. During this deployment he received the first of two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals. In the summer of 2005, he volunteered for duty in Djibouti, aka HOA or Horn of Africa. The decision had been made to leave the Air Wing and continue his career in the Marine Corps in law enforcement but before doing so he wanted to earn his air crew wings. He was to report for Military Police training upon his return from Djibouti. His wings were "pinned" just weeks before his death.
Many of his Marine friends had decided to get out just prior to his death and asked why Eric was not doing the same. The bottom line was that he enjoyed being a Marine. Upon his return from Iraq, the Gettysburg Beer Distributor gave him a case of Corona, his favorite beer. A few of his college friends were with him that day, and could not get over the fact that he had been given a free case of beer. They just didn't get it; but Eric did.
His willingness to serve did not come as a surprise to anyone that knew him. Military service has a long history in the McColley family. Eric's sister Cheryl served in the Navy for six years, four aboard the USS Enterprise with two tours in the Persian Gulf. His father, John, served with the Third Marine Division in Vietnam. Eric's paternal grandfather served in Burma during WWII and his maternal grandfather served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII. The McColley Family service can be traced back through numerous conflicts as far as the French and Indian War.
His Citations included:
Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with gold star, Presidential Unit Citation, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Ribbon, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Navy Sea Service Ribbon with two bronze stars, consecutive Marine Corps Expert Rifle Badges, and Gold Air Crew Wings.
His sense of humor was obvious to all that met him and until he entered high school he would proudly tell anyone that inquired, " I am going to be a stand up comedian". All that knew him will confirm his fierce sense of loyalty.
Eric was also an individual of dreams. From his early teen years until his death he would often speak of his dream to own a bar. Long before country music star Kenny Chesney made tractors sexy, Eric had decided on a name for his bar," No shoes, No shirts,No problem".
Respect however was the trait most noted by adults.His mother Susan was often the envy of others because of his love and respect for her. Eric would never hesitate to demonstrate his affection in front of his peers. In those troubling teen years when many teens wanted their space Eric would always greet his mother with a smile and a hug. His father loved to hear him say,"hey old man" and enjoyed being known by many in Gettysburg,PA as, Eric's dad.
Shortly following his death a scholarship was established in his honor at Gettysburg High School. The Sgt. Eric McColley Scholarship of Honor, a $2,000.00 annual award is presented each year to a graduating senior. The Scholarship's Inauguration was presented by Medal of Honor Recipient, Col. Wesley Fox, USMC, Retired and was represented by two Marine CH-53e Super Stallions from HMH-464. The contingent included the Squadron Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer, Sergeant Major and 20 squadron volunteers, each giving his Memorial Day 2007 to attend this Inaugural Award.