Syracuse Airport Military Courtesy Room to Open Tomorrow!

Posted On: July 28, 2008 at 10:54 AM By: DanNY

The Gregory J. Harris Military Courtesy Room, one of only two such rooms not established or run by the USO will open July 29, 2008, at Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport. This is an excellent example of individual initiative, resourcefulness and the can-do attitude of local veterans supporting our troops.

It is the brainchild of several local veterans who observed the lack of facilities for military personnel at an airport which is located 75 miles south of Fort Drum and is frequently used by members of the 10th Mountain Division. Up to now those soldiers would be stuck in empty cold terminals if their travel connections fell through or flights were delayed overnight. Like many airports, facilities close down in the evening leaving hapless travelers to fend for themselves in the vacant lonely hallways.

Loren Davies, Leroy Bowen and Gene Leimer, all veterans, were troubled by the lack of facilities for soldiers who would often have to sleep on the floor using their packs for pillows. Although local police and airport employees would try to help out when possible, these men felt a more permanent arrangement was needed. They set out to garner support for establishing a courtesy room where the soldiers could go to relax, have some coffee and snacks and be assisted by volunteers.

The response from the local authorities and public was outstanding and soon arrangements were made to lease a room form the airport authority for $1 a year to provide space while donations of furniture, equipment and supplies flowed in. Among the noted contributors are Wegmans supermarkets, the Oneida Indian Nation and Syracuse Research Corp. as well as scores of private donors. Volunteers have come forward to man the room 24 hours/7 days a week.

The opening ceremony will take place at 10am, Tuesday, July 29, 2008.

A U.S. Navy P-3 Orion aircraft will fly in from Washington, DC, with a squadron of about twenty personnel in their Dress Whites. The Squadron Commander and his crew are arriving to participate in the opening and were looking forward to a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. The Navy obviously has very good taste!

If you are in the area please stop by for the opening ceremonies! For those attending in person, please park in the open lot ($1/hour) or the garage ($1.50/hour).

Order of Events Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Tuesday, July 29, 2008, 10:00 a.m Hancock International Airport, Syracuse, NY Welcome and Opening Remarks Anthony Mancuso, Airport Commissioner Remarks Matthew J. Driscoll, Mayor of Syracuse

Introductions Mary Ann Reitano, Public Relations Coordinator Meet the Staff: Loren Davies, Leroy Bowen, Gene Leimer Corporate Sponsor: (Name TBA), AmeriCU US Army: Command Sergeant Major Terry Parham, Ft. Drum, Watertown, NY US Navy: Lt. Commander Christopher Flaherty, Naval Air Station, Brunswick, ME US Marine Corps: (Name TBA), USMC Reserve Center, Syracuse, NY Ribbon Cutting Mayor Driscoll and Commissioner Mancuso Cake Cutting Room Staff & Military Personnel Background Information

History of Room:

Before Memorial Day local Veterans Loren Davies, Commandant of the Emerald City Marine Corps League Detachment and Leroy Bowen, Quartermaster of the Pulaski VFW, Iraq War Veteran and current TSA employee began brainstorming the project. A short time later, Gene Leimer, retired SYR police sergeant and Navy Seabee Veteran came on board. Since both Loren and Gene had worked at the airport for many years and with Leroy presently a TSA employee, they decided to speak with the Commissioner about their idea. They went to Commissioner Mancuso with their idea who in turn contacted the Mayor’s office and things simply took their natural course after that. In mid-June Mary Ann Reitano signed on to handle public relations for the room. When the others learned that Mary Ann had a family member who was still listed as MIA from Vietnam and was also from the Syracuse area, naming the room after Gregory J. Harris seemed like the appropriate and logical thing to do. An empty baggage claim room was tentatively designated for the Courtesy Room. The City Council gave unanimous approval of the plan on July 7, 2008 and since then the 4-person staff has been working non-stop getting the room ready and stocked as well as solidifying donations and seeking volunteers to staff the room 24/7/365. As the project grew, Commissioner Mancuso offered a second adjoining baggage room to better accommodate the needs of other who will be utilizing the area.

As word spread of the purpose of the room, interest came from many folks not just locally but also outside of NY State, even the Associated Press contacted the Staff to do an article that appeared on their wire service all across the world. We regularly receive e-mails from military family members thanking us for our efforts on behalf of their loved ones in uniform. Many wanted to be part of this special event and as word spread, we were contacted by someone from just about every service branch offering to participate in today’s ceremony. You will certainly see a strong military presence here today, a testament to our men and women in uniform all around the globe.

Who is Gregory J. Harris?

Greg was born in Fulton and later moved to the Syracuse area where he graduated from West Genesee High School in 1963. While at West Genesee, during his senior year he completed early enlistment into the US Marine Corps and went off to boot camp in the fall in 1963 at Camp Lejeune. After boot camp Greg spent the next year or so learning about field radios and in September of 1965, as a member of the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, he was deployed to South Vietnam. On June 12, 1966 Greg was part of the command group of a South Vietnamese operation in the province of Quang Ngai and was captured – last seen being dragged into the jungle by two Viet Cong soldiers. Greg’s mother was a very outspoken member of those military families who saw to it that the POW/MIA Issue stayed at the forefront of the politically charged atmosphere of the Vietnam War.

Today, Greg’s aunts, uncles and cousins continue the struggle for answers and are active in the POW/MIA Issue in the hopes of discovering the fate of their beloved Marine. They are humbled by the naming of this Military Courtesy Room after Greg. They are sure that Greg would be overwhelmed by this honor and the family shares in that sentiment.

For photographs of the room visit: Previous coverage here and here. Associated Press article here.


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