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Onondaga County and Syracuse University Observe Veterans Day; CNY Combat Vet Shares Her Story

John Smith

A Local Veterans Day observance at the War Memorial in Syracuse this morning honored all Veteran’s both past and present.

 “The bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that our flag was still there” the choir sang.

The Spirit of Syracuse Choir and the spoken word describing the countless sacrifices of brave men and women of all wars were equally moving. Vietnam Veteran Gordie Lane

 “Well when we came home, nobody cared about POWs, nobody knew what PTSD was, nobody knew what agent orange was, nobody knew what a homeless veteran looked like” Gordie Lane said. “ All these things still have to be addressed we are finally getting that done but, unfortunately, it took fifty years of our lives and the personal sacrifices of all Vietnam veterans, especially, the ones who are in this room.”

The ceremony paid a special tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War.   Vice Commander of the 174th Attack Wing, Colonel Dan Tester shared his thoughts.

 “It breaks my heart to think of Vietnam Veterans returning home after a job well done to be met with silence or worse yet contempt for the uniform they wear and what it represents,” Col. Tester said.  

Credit John Smith / WAER News
Col. Scott Holden addresses the Veterans Day crowd.

A very limited number of living World War II Veterans is a reality that Lt. Colonel Scott Holden hopes more people understand and will take time to listen.

 “Ask them to tell you their stories, many of the most important stories of individual courage, collective commitment, personal compassion from that war that have never been told and will be lost forever when loose this exceptional population to time” Lt. Col. Holden said.

The Veteran of the Year award at the ceremony was presented to James Owens.


A Central New York veteran says her eight years in the army made her made her a stronger person, only to struggle to return to civilian life when she came home.  Jennifer Fitzgerald is a former civilian affairs team sergeant who served in Mosul and Baghdad, Iraq.  She takes pride in knowing she’s in that small percentage to make a big sacrifice.

“It makes me feel much stronger,  not just I’m a veteran but a female veteran, a female combat veteran at that," Fitzgerald said. "Being able to say yes I can do that and women can do that and I’ve done that. It’s not for everybody but I’ve overcome a lot a lot of what I thought I couldn’t do.”

Fitzgerald says she was not popular in high school, was frequently afraid, and avoided conflict.  She says that all changed after she joined the military in 2003 at age 17.

“I learned a lot about myself and a lot about being independent and being strong and sticking up for yourself and the military has taught me that," Fitzgerald said.  "I’m very thankful and proud to have these skill sets and attributes that I don’t think I would ever have if I wasn’t in the military.”

Fitzgerald says serving her country seemed logical, especially  after 9-11.  She saw so many doing their part, and felt she should, too.   Her specialty was social work.

“I went out and did assessments on villages,  if they didn’t have clean water, they didn’t have clinics, I showed them how to get it through their government and if they couldn’t provide that we would help provide that. It was a lot of navigation of the system and helping people get basic human needs.”

But Fitzgerald didn’t quite know how that work would translate after she came home in 2011.  She slipped into a year of depression and isolation before she realized advocacy was going to be what saved her.

“I said to a therapist ‘if I want your job what do I need to do to have your job?’ and she said you need a social work degree. And I said ok and that’s it. I started off on task and that has been my mission to get that degree so I can go advocate and help veterans because we are self-destructing.”

Fitzgerald says when she started to seek help, she got a lot of pushback, which only made her fight harder.  Now, she wants to do that for her fellow veterans.

“I decided that I really wanted to help people who didn’t have any more fight to give really.  We fought for our country, we come home and now we have to fight for treatment, to fight for our lives in a different way.”


Credit Chris Bolt / WAER News
Veterans raise a flag outside Hendricks Chapel that flew over a military air base in Qatar.

Programs for Veterans at Syracuse University have received a lot of attention lately, from expansions to national recognition.  The annual holiday observance reflected back on a history that has included vets.

Just a week before veteran’s day, Syracuse University was named the top private college in the nation for vets.  Military Times based its rating on education…but also on outcomes of veterans transferring to civilian lives.  But one SU grad says the attitude started long before recent programs and initiatives.

“The experiences of the World War One generation, the World War Two generation this is a community that always understood and valued military service,” Jones said.

Hear the story from WAER's Chris Bolt.

Richard Jones wanted to have a long military career…but a parachuting accident landed him in the VA hospital and he looked to SU for a chance.

Veteran and SU alum Richard Jones speaks to an audience that includes Chancellor Kent Syverud.

“I walked across the street and I had casts and crutches and I came across to the campus and asked people where’s the accounting department,” Jones said.  

A new career path eventually led to CBS as a vice president…Jones is also on the board of SU’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which he says is producing real change.

“Through research and empirical evidence to see what works, the treatments the programs,” Jones said. “What can be impactful in the lives of veterans not just scattergun approach.” 

Credit Chris Bolt / WAER News
SU's ROTC candidates attended the Veterans Day ceremony.

Programs have been used by the Veterans Administration, Labor Department, and an entrepreneurs program has expanded to other colleges. 

History was front and center at today’s ceremony.  An Army Training corps was at SU during World War I; 7,000 students enrolled right after World War II, more than 9,000 a year later.  Now the school has one thousand students who are vets or military connected.   Chancellor Kent Syverud remarked, at SU every day is Veterans Day.           

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.
Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at