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A 2d Doylestown Twp. serviceman dies in Iraq

Army First Lt. Colby Umbrell, 26, was killed in a blast south of Baghdad. Earlier, Marine First Lt. Travis Manion died near Fallujah.

Mark Umbrell, the slain soldier's father, stands on the porch of his house. In their last telephone conversation, the two discussed the Eagles' recent draft choice.
Mark Umbrell, the slain soldier's father, stands on the porch of his house. In their last telephone conversation, the two discussed the Eagles' recent draft choice.Read more

The American flag over Doylestown's Veterans Park was already at half-staff yesterday for a Marine killed in Iraq, so there was no need to lower it when the news of a second slain serviceman, Army First Lt. Colby Umbrell, filtered through the stunned community.

Umbrell, 26, an airborne Ranger, a former high school and college football standout, and a Johns Hopkins University graduate, died Thursday when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Musayyib, a town about 40 miles south of Baghdad.

As the Doylestown community prepared a vigil for Marine First Lt. Travis Manion, killed Sunday near Fallujah, organizers found they had two service members to memorialize - both driven, thoughtful, committed officers who grew up in Doylestown Township and this week became its first sons killed in the Iraq war.

"Two in one week. . . . It's pretty hard on the community to lose two young men like that," said Dan Fraley, director of Veterans Affairs for Bucks County.

Friends and family described Umbrell as a "natural-born leader" who looked out for poverty-stricken Iraqi civilians even while commanding his 36-member platoon.

Umbrell served in the First Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

Two other soldiers in Umbrell's unit suffered minor injuries in the attack, according to the Army.

In a December interview for an Army press release, Umbrell described Musayyib as "a pretty stable town. One of the biggest problems here is the poor economic standards of the town."

Umbrell took it upon himself to collect school supplies for children near his base. In partnership with his former Lenape Middle School guidance counselor, Ann Kuntzmann, and the National Junior Honor Society, students collected boxes of paper and pencils. His father mailed them to Iraq last month.

"He wanted to help, he didn't just want to be there" in his military capacity, said his father, Mark Umbrell. "He said kids love to learn, but they don't have the basic tools to do it."

Umbrell had hoped to reenlist, go to law school, and join the military's Judge Advocate General Corps.

"Whatever it took for Colby to succeed in whatever he wanted to do, he got it done. . . . He was just fierce," said Bryan Scott, a safety for the Tennessee Titans who was a co-captain along with Umbrell of their Central Bucks High School East football squad.

As a football player at Central Bucks East and then at Hopkins, he was "relentless," said Jim Margraff, the college's head football coach. In his freshman year in 2000, Umbrell, a defensive lineman, was a key part of the Blue Jays' first Centennial Conference title.

"He was a good, honest guy you'd trust with anything," Margraff said. "He'd always work hard, always do the right thing - I could see why he did well in the military."

When word of a Doylestown soldier's death reached the middle school earlier in the week, one of Kuntzmann's 50 students in the National Junior Honor Society approached her, worried that it had been Umbrell.

She told him no, only to call him back Thursday to break the news. The meeting was short - she was crying.

Umbrell was the oldest of four children, three boys and a girl. He was protective of his younger sister, Casey, 23, and had an offbeat sense of humor that led him to dance to Muzak in an elevator.

In his last telephone call home, Umbrell and his father discussed the Eagles' draft. "He thought it was a good idea to draft a quarterback for the future," his father said.

A brother, Bruce, 22, is also in the Army, stationed in South Korea. Umbrell's youngest brother, Adam, 21, lives in Tampa, Fla.

The similarities between Umbrell and Manion are striking. Both 26-year-old first lieutenants were around 6 feet in height and weighed 200 pounds. Both were high school sports stars. Manion went to the Naval Academy, while Umbrell considered West Point but chose Hopkins. Parents of both men said they each saw the "big picture" and wanted to help bring democracy to Iraq.

So as the Manion family prepared to bury their son today, they found themselves also thinking about another family's son.

"He'll certainly be in our thoughts," said Jim Manion, Travis' uncle. The vigil for Manion was scheduled for last night.

In Doylestown Township, the loss of two soldiers in a week - the first casualties for the community of 18,000 people in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan - was stunning.

"It is a loss that's felt by the entire community," said Barbara N. Lyons, chairwoman of the township's Board of Supervisors.

Funeral plans for Umbrell have not been finalized, but he will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

"I know he will be so proud to be there," said his mother, Nancy Umbrell. "He would take it as an honor."