BNTD’s Gene Powell and his wife Mary Lou Powell have recently started a scholarship program to help students attending Mary Lou’s alma mater, the University of South Florida, on the GI Bill. The Veteran Success Last Mile Scholarship will help recipients who still need assistance in paying tuition beyond what is covered by the GI Bill.
Gene and Mary Lou both have the military life in their blood — alongside Gene’s own time in the service, his three uncles all served during World War II. Mary Lou’s father was a Navy man who served at Pearl Harbor.
While presenting the inaugural Veteran Success Last Mile Scholarship award during the USF Alumni Luncheon, Gene made the following remarks, which we print in full below:
Mary Lou and I were thrilled to sponsor the first Veteran Success Last Mile Scholarship. Kemel and Larry asked me to make a few remarks as to why we elected to sponsor the scholarship and I am pleased to do so.
Veterans run deep in our family and professional lives. First, I had three uncles that served with the Naval Services during World War II. Two were naval officers and one Marine NCO. Although I was very young during the war, I was very much into their service and regularly wore my Navy uniform.
Regretfully, my uncle Hubert, a Lt (Jg) was killed in Sicily near the end of the war. He was a rather colorful man, nicknamed “The Bard” by his fraternity, who loved the girls and wrote a poem about every girl he met. The last poem he wrote before his untimely death was titled, “Farewell.”
The other two uncles were brothers and, by pure chance, met on the street in Honolulu on Christmas Day 1944.
Mary Lou’s father was also Navy, and served at Pearl Harbor.
On my 65th birthday, we had the pleasure of raising a flag aboard the USS Missouri in memory of my uncles and Mary Lou’s dad.
The military also played a great role in our marriage. During Desert Storm, I served as the SJA for CENTCOM Rear HQ. Mary Lou was in law school at Stetson. We met by chance in Ybor City and 3 years later were married. I consider her my “War Bride”. Since our marriage, there has not been a PX or BX in the US that Mary Lou has passed up when given the opportunity.
My oldest son retired last year as an SGM, US Army, with the JFK Special Warfare Center. Between the two of us, we have 68 years of military service.
When I retired as a judge, I decided to return to the law practice. By pure circumstance, I started doing Veterans’ disability cases with the VA. In over 50 years as a lawyer, I have never had clients that were more appreciative than the vets we represent.
Our veterans have spanned from World War II to Korea, from Vietnam to Desert Storm and to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I think of how much these veterans have sacrificed for our nation, and how they have maintained such a positive outlook, I am reminded of a client who served with the US Army during Operation Teapot in 1955 at the Nevada Test Site.
He was assigned to an armor division at Fort Irvin, California. His unit was trucked to the test site and deployed some 6 miles away from the blast. The aim of the operation was to establish military tactics for ground forces on a nuclear battlefield. After the detonation of the device, the unit moved forward toward ground zero. The soldiers were quickly covered with the dust and debris from the blast.
The decontamination consisted of having their uniforms swept with brooms. They were then loaded and trucked back to Fort Irvin.
My vet was service-connected for renal cell carcinoma with right nephrectomy related to ionizing radiation. After service, he had worked for years with this condition, but developed CAD as a result of the residuals and became unable to continue working. I represented him at a VA hearing for unemployability. At the close of the hearing, I asked him if there was anything he would like to say, and he responded:
“I should thank the United States and the people for the privilege of serving in the military, because in a lot of respects that is the highlight of my entire life, my military service. It becomes to me more significant as I get older, I maybe romanticize it a bit, but at my age I’ve earned that privilege. I’m a member of the greatest society ever.”
I get a little teary every time I read that passage and recall that moment.
So, with this background in the military, Mary Lou and I were indeed privileged to have a role in the Veteran Success Last Mile Scholarship. We were rewarded for our efforts this year when we received a letter from Jonathan Nemergut, informing us that we was to be the first recipient of our scholarship. Jonathan is an Iraq War veteran with a Purple Heart. He and his bride, Samantha, have two young children, and Jonathan is well on his way to receiving his Masters in Library Science at USF. We are indeed honored to have played a small role in his education.
I commend the Veteran Success Last Mile Scholarship to you, as a way to honor our veterans who have sacrificed family for the needs of our country, and endured the hardships of multiple deployments. If you choose to endow a scholarship, the return to you will be measured in the enhancement of the lives of our veterans in recognition of a job well done.
I thank you for the privilege to make these remarks.
BNTD Law is proud of Gene and Mary Lou and their spirit of service to current military servicemembers and veterans. You can help support USF student veterans by donating to the Veterans Success Last Mile Scholarship Fund here.
If you’re looking to file a claim with the VA, whether it’s for service-connected conditions, PTSD, or other VA Disability-related issues and would like to speak to a legal representative, BNTD Law is here to help. Contact us by phone at (803) 779-7599 or online at any time to request your FREE consultation.