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February 16, 2015

The Lessons We Learned: Talking with WWII Veterans

The Lessons We Learned: Talking with WWII Veterans

GI 9-19 4In the fall of 2014, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF) interviewed two SU Alumni who had served in World War II.

Frank Burgmeier and Jim Wertz both shared stories and memories of their time in service and their return back to the United States in a personal interview with the IVMF staff. Each spoke of the war and the lessons they learned about completing their college education upon separation from the service.

Wertz was on YMS 364, a mine sweeper in the Philippines at 18 years old. He said it made it feel like he contributed to the war.

“It was a maturing process to be in the service. You became independent,” Wertz said. He says that he met people from all backgrounds, united under the idea that they were all proud Americans.

“It was called the Greatest Generation,” Wertz tearfully told IVMF.

Wertz worked at G.E. after the war for a couple years, but had a desire to go back to college. His high school history teacher recommended Syracuse University’s new veteran program. Through the G.I. Bill, Wertz was able to receive his degree and eventually met his wife of 60 years on campus.

“A lot of this country is made up of veterans that had the opportunity through the G.I. Bill to become doctors, lawyers and presidents,” Wertz said. “We’re lucky to have them. We certainly would not be as educated of a society if not for the G.I. Bill.”

Frank Burgmeier was in the Air Force, originally the U.S. Army Air Corps. At only 20 years old, Burgmeier was the leading navigator for a group of 54 airplanes to make sure they were on target.

“It’s a great country. We were very proud to be fighting. During the war, there was no question of morale…it was all just moving forward to a goal, which we were going to accomplish,” Burgmeier said.

After his time in the service, Burgmeier went to Syracuse University through the G.I. Bill to study broadcasting. He was on WJIV, the radio station on campus at the time. Burgmeier recalls that being one of his favorite parts at the university.

Syracuse University has come a long way since the 1940s original veteran initiatives. Today, there are many benefits for the veteran/military community at Syracuse University including the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) which works nationally to help impact the social, economic, education and policy issues impacting veterans and their families post-service. To learn more about the veteran and military initiatives at Syracuse University and the mission of the IVMF, please visit,

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