Our Veterans’ Experience
The Syracuse University Archives holds diverse documentation about the experience of individual veterans on campus after World War II. These materials range from newspaper clippings to photographs to papers donated by the veterans themselves. Presented here is a sampling of these records which show how varied our veterans were.
Stanley Nowocienski was the first combat veteran to complete his entire Syracuse University education under the GI Bill. He entered as a freshman in the 1944 summer semester and attended continuously under the University’s accelerated plan, graduating from the College of Business Administration in January 1947. Nowocienski had enlisted in the Marine Corps and saw action in three Pacific invasions before being wounded on Guadalcanal and receiving his medical discharge. He received the Purple Heart during a special ceremony on campus in June 1944.
Corporal Margaret Hastings, who attended Syracuse University in the late 1940s, was a highly-publicized member of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). During the war, she survived a plane crash that left her and two men stranded in the jungles of New Guinea for 47 days. Reporters dubbed this jungle “Shangri-la.”
Wesley Peterson, Class of 1950, took these photographs with a camera he received as a graduation present. The images are rare color shots of the trailers used as married student housing for veterans attending the University under the GI Bill. Peterson’s trailer was on Piskor Street, named for Dean of Men Frank Piskor, in Drumlins Trailer Park.
Thanks to all the veterans enrolled under the GI Bill at the time, the largest class in the University’s history to date graduated at the June 1950 commencement.
Attilio Mascone earned his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering in 1948. He served in the 106th Infantry in Europe during the war. Within days of arrival in Belgium his unit, the 422nd, was captured by German forces during the Battle of the Bulge. Mascone was held in an overcrowded German prison camp, Stalag 9B, until American forces liberated the prisoners in the spring of 1945. After recuperation, Mascone, despite continuing health issues, entered Syracuse on the GI Bill. He was one of the veterans housed temporarily out in Baldwinsville.
Born in Germany, Jerry Happek and his family escaped the Holocaust by leaving Europe with a visa to Cuba. From there they entered the United States and settled in Syracuse. Because of his ability to speak several languages, Happek served in Army Intelligence during the war in Italy, North Africa and Austria. He graduated from the School of Architecture at Syracuse University in 1951.
Thomas C. Large
Thomas C. Large graduated from the School of Architecture in 1954. He was a Syracuse University cheerleader and at one point was even head cheerleader. His wife remembers he was good-naturedly teased as the “only bald-headed cheerleader.”
Where are our Black Veterans?
There is more archival material about white male veterans in the University Archives than any other veteran group. Students who were Black, Indigenous, and people of color already comprised a minority of students on campus, and they have not been well represented in the University Archives. Historical enrollment records did not document students by race, and the presence of historically underrepresented veterans is difficult to trace as well. However, a few documents in the University Archives confirm that, as early as September 1946, at least a small number of Black veterans were on the Syracuse University campus after the war.
A file from the Syracuse University Treasurer’s Office Records contains reports that the University was required to submit to the federal government to account for its use of temporary housing purchased from the U.S. War Department. These reports required the University to provide demographic occupancy numbers of veterans — including by race. The file is not a complete accounting of all veteran housing on campus. Black veterans probably lived in other parts on or off campus as well, but the numbers of Black veterans in these occupancy reports are very low — 1 or 2 at a time — and may reflect their likely low numbers here at Syracuse University.
These low numbers were probably common at other predominantly-white colleges and universities, at least those who admitted Black students. Black veterans were just as eligible for GI Bill benefits, but the bill presented obstacles, namely systemic racism and an unhelpful Veterans Administration, which prevented many from taking advantage of them. Some Black veterans could not afford to attend college, even with the benefits. Others found that a history of poorly funded public education for Black students did not prepare them for college. Lastly, many who applied for admission faced official or unofficial quotas for Black students.