Remembering a Fallen Soldier
After Gary Scott was killed in Vietnam, his SU friends established a scholarship that continues to honor his legacy today
By James T. Bruen
In the November 1985 issue of Syracuse University Magazine, a photo of Gary Scott ’67 appeared with the editor’s column about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial under the heading “Healing the Wounds.” After a brief description of Gary, the editor wrote, “Apart from these few, bare facts, I know nothing of Gary Scott.”
I am not surprised, but if he had reached Gary’s dorm mates, he would have heard the “rest of the story.” After Gary was killed in action during the Vietnam War, his dorm mates created a scholarship in his memory that they have maintained for more than four decades. It has not only impacted the lives of 44 recipients from his hometown, but has also bonded his dozen contributors together.
In September 1963, Syracuse University brought Gary, a SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry student, together with a group of freshmen from diverse economic, academic, and home backgrounds—urban, suburban, and rural. Most were 18 years old, but at age 24, I was considered the old man of the group, having gone through the Navy after high school. Gary was from an African American family that lived in Le Roy, New York, a rural community near Rochester, with few minorities. Our dorm, Sims II, uniquely included two African Americans who were determined to change their lives and present a model of which their families and friends would be proud.
Our dorm mates’ strong desire to compete and win the intramural dorm sports competition brought us together. Black and white, Christian and Jew, we united to take on the other residence halls and even the fraternities. We were rightly proud when we ultimately won as the top sports dorm. That sports-generated camaraderie turned into genuine friendship. We sat together and grieved at President Kennedy’s assassination. Toward the end of freshman year, we appealed to University administrators to let us stay together—to their credit they agreed. We lived in Scott Cottage our sophomore year and then moved to the top floor of Lawrinson Hall, when it opened in ’65.
Gary was one of the friendliest and easygoing members of our group. A tall and strapping figure, Gary had a gentle side—he must have spent time with his mom watching and learning how to iron, for he taught a number of us how to properly iron dress shirts. He excelled in the ROTC and was a Distinguished ROTC military graduate. He received a regular Army commission and was offered his choice of branch within the Army.
At a time when the Vietnam War was raging, Gary chose the toughest and most dangerous assignment: the infantry. I tried to talk him out of that choice. But he told me the infantry provided the best chance to prove he could be an outstanding military leader. He felt there was not a sufficient representation of blacks in leadership positions in this country. In March 1968, as a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne, Gary was killed in an ambush in Hue, Vietnam. His parents, then living in Rochester, were given his Silver Star. When Gary’s body came home in April 1968, his parents asked his Syracuse schoolmates to be honorary pallbearers—six of us came back.
We decided at that time to set up a scholarship in Gary’s name at his high school in Le Roy. Fifteen of his classmates contributed to the award. Annual solicitations were made for the next 15 years. In fall 2002, his Sims II friends gathered for their 35th reunion at an SU football game on campus. They were updated on the award and renewed their financial commitment to Gary’s memory. I contacted Gary’s brother Dennis, and we met with the Le Roy High School principal. The space on the original recognition plaque had filled up in 2000. A new plaque was designed and bought by Gary’s brother. The new plaque goes to 2031. The cash award in 2003 increased 10-fold and has continued to increase every year since. This year’s contributors are 13 classmates, Gary’s brother David, and my family. On June 21, a $5,000 scholarship was presented to this year’s deserving senior, Ashley Owens. However, first, the audience heard the heroic story of Gary Scott, told by one of his classmates. Typically, there was not a dry eye in the audience. One father came up to me and indicated he has had several children graduate and looks forward to hearing Gary’s story again and again.
Gary’s Sims II classmates and friends have been active in telling his story every June in Le Roy. On Memorial Day 2008, the medic in Gary’s platoon, Bruce Braittain, called Le Roy High School from his home in the state of Washington, searching for Gary’s family. After 40 years, he wanted to tell them how significant a man Gary was. With his wife, he came and met with Gary’s sister, Sylvia. “Gary never asked or directed anyone to do what he himself was not willing to do,” Bruce said, telling Sylvia that Gary died “covering” him after sending the medic into a dangerous situation.
Gary is remembered in many other ways as well:
- He appears in the book Dear America, Letters Home from Vietnam. His radioman wrote home to his father in Memphis, Tennessee, “Tonight the nation mourns the death of Martin Luther King—I mourn the death of Lt. Scott, a fine man and a good leader.”
- His name appears on The Wall in Washington, D.C., and on a Vietnam memorial in Rochester.
- A plaque with his name hangs in Hendricks Chapel.
- There is a commemorative paver dedicated by Sims II classmates in the Orange Grove on campus.
This fall, Gary’s Sims II classmates and spouses returned to Syracuse for their 45th reunion. There was much updating of each other’s lives, but, of course, Gary Scott was front and center. He is the glue that keeps us together.
James T. Bruen ’67 lives in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on the Gary Scott Award at Le Roy Central School, contact Jim at email@example.com.
Classmates and friends of the late Gary Scott ’67 gathered on campus in September to celebrate their 45th reunion and remember their fallen friend. Pictured, front row (from left): Jim Davies, Steve Gould, Jim Bruen; second row: Lee Hillis, Bill Porter, Rich Babinecz, Gerald Manioci, Bob Auerbach; back row: Guy Piddington and Barry Rothenberg.