Ilion Women Veterans

Veterans Day Salute!

Ilion Women Veterans

By Aileen Carney Sweeney
November 2016



Veterans Day Salute

IHS Alumni Women Veterans

Mary Erin O'Connor Blair IHS 1969

Mary Erin O'Connor Blair joined the navy in 1972. She had just graduated from Delhi High Agricultural and Tech College and was living in Syracuse. She was looking for a big challenge, something that other people were not doing, so she joined the navy. Both of her parents, Timothy and Mary Elizabeth Harris O'Connor were World War II Veterans. Her mother served in Washington during World War II and her father served in the army during World War II. She was moved to follow in her mother's footsteps.

IHS 1969 Veteran Mary Erin O'Connor Blair
IHS 1969 Veteran Mary Erin O'Connor Blair
Photos courtesy of Tim O'Connor IHS 1966

She attended boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland where she spent ten weeks all with women. The recruits did not see a man except for a medic in the whole ten weeks that she was there. She then spent a short period of time at the Naval Air search Station in Norfolk, Virginia. When she went to the Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut, in 1972, there were only a handful of women on the base. They did not have a barracks and ended up living in an apartment in the officer's quarters.

Mary O'Connor
Mary Erin's mother
World War II veteran Mary Elizabeth Harris O'Connor
of Frankfort, NY
Photos courtesy of Tim O'Connor IHS 1966

Like Mother, Like Daughter

"My mother frequently talked about women being in during World War II and what it was like and the things they had to take jobs over for men so they could go out to sea. It was a whole new breaking ground for women during World War II. They had just established women in the service and they weren’t quite sure what to do with them so it was the start of women in the service and it was a new ground she was breaking. She speaks fondly of her time in the service and the friends she made and what it was like for women to be on the same level as men to serve their country. Usually they were back home serving but my mother wanted to put on the uniform and serve right up next to the men." Source - Mary Erin O’Connor Blair Interview, NYS Military Museum

"I'm still in contact with three girls that I was in boot camp with that I haven't seen since 1972. I have remained in contact with them for over thirty years, we just formed a bond. Each duty station I went to its just things that click, you work hard you play hard you become like a family. You love each other like a family and you’re willing to make sacrifices like you would in a family. I’ve seen people that would take watches for other people so they could be with their family. It's phenomenal and it’s been going on for years."

Start of her Counseling Career with the State Division of Veterans Affairs

"When I first joined the navy there was very few jobs women could do. You could be a medic, a clerk, store keeper, administrative type duties. There weren’t maybe five jobs when I enlisted that they showed me I could do. Since I had an aversion to blood I decided the medics weren’t for me. So I was a personnel man and I took care of people’s records, well at least I started out that way and worked my way up to counseling after twenty six years. I use to transfer people and when I first started doing it I didn’t think of it much, you have to remember Vietnam was going on at this time, and I sent a lot of people to Vietnam. I would type their orders up, get their medical records, take care of everything they needed. I got to say because what was going on here in the states, I really didn’t realize where I was sending them, and I was sending them into harm’s way. Until someone in my home town, a kid I had gone to school with was killed did it put a personal face on it. So after that whenever I sent somebody overseas to Vietnam I looked at that person in a whole different way. It surely stopped and made me think it wasn’t a person on a piece of paper. I did a variety of jobs and they were all working with sailors. Then I got into counseling with them and it was a very very rewarding experience for me."

HCCC Fallen Stars Memorial

Mary Erin attended the open house where Herkimer County Community College conducted its first Armed Forces Open House in July 2012. It was an opportunity to provide veterans with information on the state and federal benefits available to them and their families. "It takes veterans time before they can get back into the academic world. Veterans come home from an entirely different atmosphere and it takes time before they can concentrate on school. When they are ready we are here to help," said Blair. "If were able to reach at least three or four veterans, we will have made a difference."

Mary Erin O'Connor Blair HCCC Open House
HCCC Open House
From left are Herkimer County Hunger Coalition Founder Ray Lenarcic, Mohawk American Legion Post Commander Rich Monahan, Director of Veterans Services for Herkimer County Charlie Miller, State Veteran Counselor for Herkimer and Oneida Counties Mary Erin Blair and Sitrin Military Liaison Luke Slatton.
Photos courtesy of The Evening Telegram

Relay for Life

The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 827, of Herkimer, combined forces with American Cancer Society Relay for Life Team Tim O'Connor for the 2007 Relay for Life. Through the efforts of Mary Erin Blair, team captain and state veteran counselor with the New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs, the team raised awareness among both veterans and the rest of the community about Agent Orange-related cancer. "More veterans have died of cancer from Agent Orange than died in the war. We're hoping to reach out to those veterans battling cancer." Mary Erin and her brother, Tim O'Connor IHS '66, with the help of veterans Christopher Bouck IHS '67, Richard Bullen and Ken Ajello, set up an informational booth next to their Relay tent.

Counselor of the Year

Ilion alumnus Mary Erin O'Connor Blair 1969 was named Counselor of the Year for the State Division of Veterans Affairs - Northeastern division in 1999. She provided benefits counseling and advocacy on behalf of veterans and their families in Oneida and Herkimer Counties. Mary Erin served 11 years on active duty in the Navy and 15 years in the Naval Reserves. She joined the Division of Veterans Affairs in 1994.

A Family Tradition - Honoring Veterans

Mary Erin O'Connor Blair Memorial Day Parade
HCCC Open House
Connor Catanzarite, age 7, of Baldwinsville, the grandson of retired Vietnam-era Navy veterans Chris and Mary Erin Blair, of Ilion, salutes during the Herkimer Memorial Day parade in 2011.
Photos courtesy of The Evening Telegram

Making Women Proud!

"They didn't really like military people during [1970s] then and thought probably even less of women. So, I'm really thrilled to see they have broken that stereotype and you see women as commanding officers of ships and they’re just doing almost everything in the navy. If I was a little younger I wish I was in right now and try something different. It would be a better place for my daughter. She would have more opportunities than I had and I would be glad to see that. I would be really glad."

Thank you Mary Erin (O'Connor) Blair for your outstanding service!


The Kennedy Family

Five Siblings in Service

5 Kennedys in Service
The Leo Kennedy Siblings in Service

Text from Schenectady Gazette, July 18, 1945

Five members of the Kennedy family are now in service. The grandchildren of Patrick Carney of 14 Eagle Street, the three brothers and two sisters are all overseas now with one exception and he has served in Europe. They are First Lt. Joseph W. Kennedy, Robert W. Kennedy, motor machinist's mate; Aviation Cadet William Kennedy, First Lt. Margaret Kennedy and Yeoman Second Class Helen E. Kennedy.

Lt. Joseph Kennedy of the army is now stationed in the Philippines where he is serving with the 81st division of infantry. Brother Robert is serving as a motor machinist's mate on a submarine and also has been in the Philippines for most recently six months. Through the kindness of Robert's commanding officer, he was given a 5-day furlough to visit Joseph and walked eight miles to meet him. This was the first time that the brothers had met in over two years.

Lt. Joseph Kennedy is married and his wife and daughter, Patricia Ann live at the Eagle street address. A graduate of Christian Brothers academy in Albany and of Sienna college he was attending Albany Law school when he enlisted Jan. 3. 1941. He trained at Fort Monroe, Va., and has been serving in the. Pacific area since July, 1944.

Robert Kennedy' is a graduate of Ilion High school and was employed at the General Electric Co. before enlisting Jan. 3, 1941. He trained at New London, Conn., and has been serving in the Philippines. His wife and two children Robert Jr., and Kathleen are now living in Portland, Ore.

Aviation Cadet William Kennedy is now attending navigation school at Selman field, Monroe, La. He has returned from overseas where he completed 30 missions over Germany. He has the distinguished service cross, the air medal and three oak leaf clusters.

First Lt. Margaret Kennedy has been serving for two years overseas as an army nurse. She is now stationed In France. Yeoman Second Class Helen E. Kennedy Is serving with the WAVE'S and is stationed at Washington, DC.


Remembering All Veterans

A Salute to Those Who Are Gone

Veteran Memorials have a special place on this web site.

Today we take time to honor those who have so selflessly served us.

Saluting All Veterans but this year, especially women veterans!


References Cited

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Modified November 12, 2016

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