As the country prepares to celebrate Veterans Day this month, Fordham veterans of the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force came together to honor Thomas W. Hyland, FCRH ’65, LAW ’71, a retired Army captain and notable litigator, for his contributions to the University’s military heritage.
A 1965 Distinguished Military Graduate from Fordham College at Rose Hill, Hyland was named to the Fordham University Military and NYC Army Reserve Officer Corps Hall of Fame on Nov. 5, following a special veterans Mass at the University Church. Both the Mass and Hall of Fame ceremony were organized by the Fordham Veterans Alumni Chapter, which helps to support and recognize veteran students and current ROTC cadets at the University.
“It’s extremely important for us to be able to learn from what other generations in the military have gone through, and come together as a community,” said Kevin Knightes, a current student at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies (PCS) and president of Fordham Veterans Association.
The son of Irish immigrants, Hyland was commissioned as a second lieutenant during the Vietnam War. He said he was attempting to help a wounded soldier get onto a rescue helicopter when he was shot in the stomach in a brutal attack that left him incapacitated.
“It was a miracle that I actually lived,” said Hyland, who was awarded the Silver Star in 1968 and numerous decorations and medals, including a Purple Heart and the Vietnam Service Medal.
He underwent countless surgeries in Japan and the United States, where he said he had to learn to talk, walk, and write all over again. Still, he was determined to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a lawyer.
“A lot of people told me that I couldn’t do that, but the more they told me I couldn’t, the more I said, ‘I’m going to do it,” he said.
Hyland, who recalled he’d shrunk from 205 pounds to 96 pounds after the war and had to walk with a cane, enrolled in Fordham Law in 1965. He went on active duty in 1966 before returning to the law school in 1969. Though he struggled with constant pain and a short attention span, he went on to earn his law degree with support from a few of his law “buddies” who would study with him in the library and encouraged him to persevere.
“I had a difficult time, but five fellow students adopted me and got me through,” he said.
After graduating in 1971, Hyland served as an assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office and became a special trial counsel for the Securities and Exchange Commission in New York City. A fellow of the leading legal association American College of Trial Lawyers, he has served as a successful ligation attorney at Wilson Elser, where he has worked for more than 30 years and currently serves as managing partner.
John D. Feerick, dean of Fordham Law from 1982 to 2002 who got to know Hyland through his litigations, said Hyland’s journey from the military to law was profound.
“It’s really wonderful as a former dean to hear these types of stories,” he said. “What he describes about the law students makes me proud of our school.”
According to Matthew Butler, PCS ’16, director of Military and Veterans’ Services at Fordham, the University has more than 400 veterans.
“It’s a number that continues to grow, and that’s something we should all be very proud of,” he said.