Alden Partridge Colvocoresses – Colonel, United States Army

3 April 2007:

Alden P. Colvocoresses, 88, a decorated Army Colonel and U.S. Geological Survey mapmaker who unsuccessfully challenged the federal government for ownership of a duck-hunting island in the Potomac River, died March 27, 2007, at Inova Fairfax Hospital after a stroke.

Dr. Colvocoresses, known by many as Colvo, served in the Army Corps of Engineers from 1941 to 1968. During World War II, he received two Silver Stars, one for capturing and destroying a German Mark IV tank in Tunisia and another for escaping from Italian captors in North Africa.

He also served in the Korean War and retired after playing a large role in mapping operations during the Vietnam War. His other decorations included the Bronze Star Medal and two Purple Hearts.

He spent the rest of his career working for the U.S. Geological Survey's national mapping division, retiring in 1990. He was a research cartographer on the Landsat satellite program and received two patents for models of remote sensing systems. He also discovered a reef in the Indian Ocean that was subsequently named for him.

Dr. Colvocoresses's interest in duck hunting and bass fishing led him to an unnamed 3.7-acre island in the Potomac just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. From his reading of USGS maps, he thought “Colvo's Island” was outside National Park Service wildlife refuge boundaries.

After he was spotted shooting from the island in the mid-1980s, he fought a long battle with the Park Service over ownership. He filed a claim for the island in the Fairfax County assessor's office and began paying taxes on the land, which was largely overrun with water during heavy rains.

But an old USGS map was shown to be wrong in not noting the Park Service's ownership of the island when it acquired Dyke Marsh, a wetlands area, decades earlier.

In 1990, a U.S. District judge fined Dr. Colvocoresses $100 for carrying a firearm in national parkland.

Alden Partridge Colvocoresses was a native of Humboldt, Arizona, and a 1941 mining engineering graduate of the University of Arizona.

During his military career, he received master's degrees in geology and civil engineering and a doctorate in geodetic sciences from Ohio State University.

He was a recipient of the Interior Department's Distinguished Service Award and was a former president of the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. He also was a former president of Fairfax Bassbusters, a fishing group now called Fairfax Bass.

He was a Fairfax resident before moving to Falcons Landing, a retirement community in Sterling, about a decade ago.

His marriage to June Caldwell Colvocoresses ended in divorce. His second wife, Katherine Rose Colvocoresses, whom he married in 1949, died in 1974.

Survivors include a daughter from his first marriage, Colette Wales of Canterbury, England; three children from his second marriage, Jim Colvocoresses of Little Torch Key, Florida, Janet Clampitt of Sterling and Judy Brescia of Lovettsville; nine grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Colonel Alden Partridge Colvocoresses, United States Army (retired), developed in 1973-1979 the Space Oblique Mercator with John Parr Snyder and John L. Junkins. Colvocoresses was the first to realize that such a projection was needed and mathematically feasible, and in 1974 defined it geometrically projection that maps images from Landsat satellites, which he used to develop the first satellite map of the United States.

Alden P. Colvocoresses was born the son of George M. Colvocoresses II and Alice Hagen in Humbolt, Arizona, in 1918. He is the grandson of George Partridge Colvocoresses and the great-grandson of George Colvocoresses.

He served in the United States Army in World War II, in the 16th Armored Engineer Battalion of the 1st Armored Division, pulling duties in North Africa and Europe.

He was twice wounded in combat and has received the Purple Heart as well as two Silver Stars with Oak Leaf Clusters, the second awarded under the command of Major General Ernest N. Harmon, who later served as president of Norwich University for 15 years, from 1950-1965.

Alden became involved with aerial photo mapping for the 1st Army, where he oversaw some of the photo mapping as preparation for the D-Day assault on Normandy.

After leaving the Army, Alden was a pioneer in satellite mapping techniques, including the Space Oblique Mercator projection that maps images from Landsat satellites, which he used to develop the first satellite map of the United States.

On May 8, 2005 Colvocoresses gave his great-great-niece, Gretchen Herrboldt Hahn, graduate of NU 2005, the commissioning oath as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. She became the first descendant of Norwich University founder Alden Partridge to graduate from Norwich in 138 years. Alden is the brother of Gretchen's maternal great-great grandmother and a key link in a military family whose roots are entwined deep in the Norwich tradition.

  • DATE OF BIRTH: 09/18/1923
  • DATE OF DEATH: 03/27/2007



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