Niagara Gazette — A sleek new hi-tech survey boat added to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Buffalo District fleet bears a family name whose roots run deep to the 1700s.
The boat was dedicated to Robert R. Witmer during a brief program Thursday at the corps of engineers’ complex along the upper Niagara River in the shadows of the state Thruway. More than 60 people including Witmer’s son, David Witmer of Youngstown, who retired from the corps in 2009 after 45 years of service, attended the event.
The Witmer family link to national service began with Robert’s great-grandfather, Tobias Witmer, who started as a surveyor with the Holland Land Co. in the 1800s. He enlisted in the Civil War as an engineer/surveyor with the 50th New York Volunteer Engineers as a sergeant. Tobias’ son, Christian F. Witmer (Bob’s grandfather) also entered the Civil War with the 50th New York unit, serving as a corporal and surveyor with the same engineering group. Christian died at age 99 in 1939, the last known Civil War veteran in Western New York.
Robert Witmer for whom the 26-foot vessel is named, was age 87 when he died in 2003. He retired in 1969 after 30 years with the government including his outstanding military service. He served twice in the European, African and Middle Eastern theaters. Witmer was at the battle of the Ardennes and in the Azores on the Portuguese Island of Santa Marie to help build an airport. He also served in the Asian Pacific Theater in Honolulu/Peral Harbor, Okinawa and Saipan, constructing air bases. After the war, he returned home to the corps and served in the Army reserves with the 479th Engineer Construction Battalion with the rank of sergeant first class.
In that post-war era, Witmer held key assignments as survey party chief, construction inspector and project engineer of several flood control and harbor projects. He also was chief dredging supervisor of the South Cornwall work during the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway Project, a joint U.S.-Canadian effort that started in 1955 and opened to navigation in 1959.