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Veterans Services Officer inducted into Hall of Fame for his dedicated service to veterans

By Howard B. Owens
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Command Sergeant Major William Joyce (U.S. Army, Retired) of Pembroke, and the Genesee County Veterans Services Officer, upon his induction into the New York Senate Veterans Hall of Fame on Friday at Botts Fiorito American Legion Post No. 576 in Le Roy.
Photo by Howard Owens.

It was obvious on Friday that Bill Joyce is a man surrounded by a family that loves him, and he loves his wife, daughters, and grandchildren.

But he also loves the veterans he serves.

"I can remember the Christmas parties and some of the fondest memories of my sparkly little dress with my sparkly little shoes," said his daughter Jacqueline Joyce. "Watching my dad's troops laugh and joke with him. And the random memory I have of him holding a newborn baby and sitting next to him and watching him look down in awe. It was in that moment I understood. This was his second family. That was what resonated with me. This is my dad's second family, his veterans."

Joyce served in the US Army on active and reserve duty for 40 years.  He is a retired New York State Police mechanic and quartermaster.  Since 2012, he has been Genesee County's Veterans Services Officer and, by all accounts, performing his duties above and beyond the call of duty.

Both because of his service to his community and to veterans, on Friday, United States Army Command Sergeant Major William Joyce (Ret.) of Pembroke was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame Friday by New York State Sen. George M. Borrello during a ceremony at the Botts Fiorito American Legion Post No. 576 in Le Roy.

Joyce's three daughters, Verna Cromwell, Jacqueline, and Amanda Werner, with their mother, Susan, and children in the audience, gave speeches at the ceremony honoring him as a father and a man committed to service.

"His transition to VSO only seemed like the next move for him to continue taking care of his boys, his soldiers and his veterans," said Jacqueline, who herself served in the military, the U.S. Air Force and is currently a member of the Air Force reserve. "As a VSO dad has helped countless veterans in any part of the world. In his time, as VSO, he has taken pride in making Memorial Day and Veterans Day more memorable. He takes pride in securing Batavia PD to block off traffic at the Upton Monument and having flags placed for the fallen when their names are read (at the War Memorial at (Jerome Center) improving the experience for the families observing. Most importantly for me, I get to spend half the day with my hero, laughing, joking, sweating, freezing, and getting soaked, similar to last Veterans Day, where my boots had to be disposed of because they were so soggy."

In his opening remarks, Borrello noted the sacrifices Joyce and his family made because of his commitment to serve his country.

After training at Fort Dix in 1972, Joyce entered an Army that was winding down involvement in Vietnam.  He was stationed as a Specialist Fourth Class in Germany to guard the Eastern Border when Czechoslovakia was still communist and a Cold War threat to Western democracy.

"After his active tour ended in 1975, he returned home and began a 40-year civilian career with the New York State Police," Borello said. "He also resumed his military service by enlisting in the Army Reserve to continue defending his home and country. In the reserves. He rose through the ranks to become a Command Sergeant Major. He had several deployments overseas to Bosnia, to Iraq twice, and to Afghanistan. The deployments in the Middle East carried particular risks and often involved breaking down the doors of suspected terrorists and going into the mountains to find their training sites. These deployments were also long, 15 months or more, requiring them to be away from his wife and daughters for long stretches of time. He missed birthdays, holidays, school concerts, and much more."

As a soldier, Joyce has been awarded a Bronze Star, the Iraq Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, and two NATO medals, among many other honors from the U.S. Army.

Joyce's daughters recalled those deployments as times of concern and absence but also of love.

"In the late 90s, things started to get more serious," Cromwell recalled. "I can remember my parents listening to the conflict of Kosovo and Bosnia on the radio while we were getting ready for my school Christmas concert. It would only be a few months later that Dad would leave us to go to Bosnia for nine months -- the longest time he'd ever been away to my memory. I still have the letters he wrote and emails I printed. He may have been half a world away, but he was still very much a part of our everyday lives. This would continue to be the case for his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this time, it was daily phone calls before school and before bed."

Cromwell said her dad was never bothered by being the father of three daughters.

"Sure, I witnessed people asking him about wanting a son, but it's a core memory for me of him replying, 'There's nothing you can do with three boys that you can't do with three girls.' And he was right," Cromwell said. "There were many mornings driving to school listening to Army cadences. I still sing these from time to time and was absolutely thrilled on Christmas when my mom dubbed the cassettes on a CD for us. There's truly nothing like hiking through a state park and belting out, 'Don't let your dog tags dangle in the dirt.'"

Both Cromwell and Jacqueline recalled most fondly their father's assignment to Colorado Springs.  The weekends were filled with trips to Pike's Peak, Garden of the Gods, the Great Sand Dunes, Denver, and other points of interest in the area.

But Joyce wasn't inducted into the Hall of Fame just because he's a good family man.  He was inducted because of the tireless work he has done for veterans.

"It is his policy to never refuse help to a veteran no matter their circumstances or where they live," Borrello said. "In fact, he has assisted veterans from as far away as California, Texas, Germany and even the Philippines."

Joyce has a reputation in the veterans' community for getting things done that few other VSOs can accomplish.

"Among his many achievements are two cases where he was able to secure 100 percent disability ratings for terminally ill veterans in record time, one within 24 hours and another within 18 hours to make government work that fast. God bless you. That's amazing. Those veterans died with peace of mind knowing that their spouses would receive critically needed survivor benefits."

Kathleen Ryan, a retired VA social worker, said she regularly gets calls from veterans throughout the region looking for help dealing with the Veterans Administration. As a result, she still speaks to Bill Joyce at least once a week.

Ryan is the person who nominated Joyce for the Hall of Fame.

"He never says no," Ryan said. "I don't know, anybody, and I've been in the business for a long time -- I'm a veteran -- I don't know anybody who has worked as hard in the daily grind of veteran work. We're talking about the daily grind of things that come in the door. And Bill has never said no."

She recalled a recent example of Joyce's dedication to serving veterans. She got a phone call from the wife of a veteran who couldn't get the help he needed from another VSO, so Ryan called Joyce.

"I call in the county service officer, and he says, 'I don't do home visits,'" Ryan said. "I say, 'this guy who is going to die is Vietnam Vet One Bravo, which is an infantry unit. He's got his house set up, the living room was set up with a hospital bed. His wife is there, and this man is going to pass any moment. He can't get in the car and go to Livingston County. It was a Thursday. I called up Bill.  He says. 'I've got it. I'm going to Albany. I got to be in Albany on Friday, meet me -- because I live in Rochester -- meet me on the Thruway.' I said, 'Okay.' We met at the Cracker Barrel in the parking lot. I got the paperwork. I've got the medical. I got everything. It's a Friday, Bill took it Saturday ... and he did all the work. By Monday, this guy was 100 certified and he had never even been seen in the VA. Never. And his wife now has spousal benefits and has all the things that she needs. And this man was able to pass away knowing his wife was going to be taken care of."

Assemblyman Steve Hawley noted that Joyce has never traveled to Washington D.C. with other veterans on Hawley's annual Patriot Trip, which is a testament to Joyce's commitment to veterans.

"It's four days and three nights," Hawley said. "He really just doesn't want to travel any more. He's traveled around the world serving our country. But he wants to stay right here every single day, helping our veterans, and for that, I respect him."

County Manager Matt Landers, with his oversight over county finances, noted that some might object to Joyce helping veterans who are not residents of Genesee County.

"Some could argue because Mr. Bill Joyce is paid for with Genesee County resources, that were helping veterans from outside of the county," Landers. "That's not even a discussion that I could have with Mr. Joyce, because there is no border for veterans. So Mr. Bill Joyce attracts them from far and away, and we support his efforts to support any veteran that is in need, whether they come across our boundary or border or he goes to them to wherever they are."

Then turning to Joyce with a smile, said, "Just please, limit the number of countries you visit." 

Verna, Jacqueline, and Amanda, all expressed how proud they are of their father.

"I could think of no one more deserving of this recognition than my dad, from the love he has given his family and the dedication and care he has given to the community of veterans, he has shown," Verna said. "He can do many different roles and excelled greatly at them. He is the prime example of 'Army - Be All You Can Be' because he has been in every way possible."

Jacqueline said, "Dad held many titles -- son, brother, husband, father, friend and soldier, and, specifically to me, my hero."

Amanda said she's inherited a title from her father, "Bill Joyce's Daughter."

"I'm Bill's youngest daughter," Amanda said. "'Bill Joyce's Daughter' is an alternative name I've gone by my whole life, even more commonly than my actual name, because he's a person that everybody knows. No matter where I am, I'm recognized by that title at least once. That's a testimony of how many lives he's touched throughout his many phases of life.

She concluded, "This award presented to him today comes with no surprise to the many that know him. He's passionate about the work he does, always sees any given task through and gets the job done like no other. On any given day, but especially today, I continue to proudly carry the title of Bill Joyce's Daughter."

bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Bill Joyce and State Sen. George Borrello.
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
The grandchildren of Bill Joyce leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Kathleen Ryan, the person who nominated Bill Joyce for the Hall of Fame, speaking.
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Genesee County Legislature Chair Shelley Stein.
Photo by Howard Owens
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
County Manager Matt Landers.
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Verna Cromwell speaking.
Photo by Howard Owens.
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame
Jacqueline Joyce
Photo by Howard Owens
bill joyce veterans service officer hall of fame

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