In an address to the 23 graduating seniors, Matt Butler, PCS ’16, director of military and veterans’ services at Fordham, said they were “added to that legacy” because of their achievements in the armed services and at Fordham.
“As military-connected students, you have demonstrated incredible strength and courage, balancing the demands of military service, post-military service, and the pursuit of academic excellence,” he said. He also lauded them for “taking extra steps to go beyond what is required of you to support your fellow Fordham students, to support your families, to support your communities.”
A ‘Deep and Broad Community’
Fordham’s military-connected students include veterans, active-duty service members, reservists, National Guard members, and service members’ spouses and children. The annual ceremony honoring them began four years ago. As in years past, it began in Keating Hall, with each student receiving a yellow ribbon medallion before everyone walked to the nearby Victory Bell and gave it a ring.
The guest speaker, Gerry Byrne, FCRH ’66, a prominent media executive and entrepreneur, recounted his Vietnam War experience as “a 23-year-old officer with 44 19-year-old [Marines] that are looking at me as God and hoping that my decisions will allow them to be around at the end of the day.”
He likened the experience to receiving “a master’s degree in leadership.” And he spoke of how his life’s pursuits constantly brought him into contact with other veterans and showed him how extensive America’s military-connected community is.
“When you think about this community that you’re a part of, just think about it in a way that is deep and broad,” he told the graduates. “It is a gigantic community that just needs to be better recognized.”
175th Anniversary of Military Service
This year, Fordham’s ROTC and student veteran leaders are trying to bring Fordham’s military-connected community closer together through an outreach effort, part of a yearlong campaign marking the 175th anniversary of military service at Fordham.
“Fordham’s men and women have defended the Constitution in every clime and place since 1848, when New York state issued Fordham 12 muskets … to defend the school against xenophobic mobs,” Butler said.
Later that century, Fordham graduate James Rowan O’Bierne, who led the capture of President Lincoln’s assassin, orchestrated a formal partnership between Fordham and the Army, which extended into today’s ROTC program, Butler said. By World War II, Fordham was producing more Army officers than West Point was, he said.
He also added a detail to the story of Fordham’s Victory Bell, originally part of a Japanese warship sunk during World War II and given to Fordham by Admiral Chester Nimitz to commemorate the University’s wartime sacrifices. Students had actually petitioned the general for some recognition of those sacrifices, given that approximately 223 people from Fordham lost their lives in World War II, Butler said.
He noted the many distinguished alumni in the University’s Hall of Honor who served in the military—a New York governor, a four-star general, Medal of Honor winners, business executives. “Graduates, let this be an inspiration to you as you add to this deep story of service and sacrifice,” he said.