GI Bill, written by Braddock native, marks 75th anniversary
Aryanna Berringer, the newly appointed director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Veterans Services, is one of the millions of veterans whose life has been impacted by the GI Bill, which marked its 75th anniversary on June 22.
“For me, personally, I grew up in poverty. I grew up sometimes not knowing where my next meal would come from,” said Berringer, a Murrysville resident. “When I joined the military, there was part of me knowing that I can get an education when I got out, that now has led me to the position I am in today.”
For that, Berringer has a fellow Pitt graduate and Western Pennsylvania native to thank.
Harry Colmery, a 1916 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Law, was born in Braddock and served in World War I as a first lieutenant in the Army Air Service after graduating from law school.
In 1936, after marrying his college sweetheart and settling in Kansas, Colmery served as national commander of the American Legion, advocating for a better future for servicemen and women upon their return home from war.
Part of that advocacy included the first draft of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 — the original GI Bill of Rights — which he wrote by hand on stationery from Washington, D.C.’s Mayflower Hotel.
“Harry called me after he had written all night for the GI Bill. He told me he used seven pens, I think,” said his niece Jean Colmery Roberts, 99, who now lives in Charleroi.
“He cared so much for his fellow man,” Roberts said. “He was a bright boy. He was dedicated, a hard worker, a deep thinker and a humble person in many respects.”
More than eight million World War II veterans received an education through the GI Bill.
Upon returning home from service in World War I, Colmery began a career as an attorney in Topeka, Kan., even arguing two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
On the anniversary of the bill’s signing in 2016, Colmery Memorial Plaza in Topeka was dedicated. It includes a statue of Colmery saluting World War II service members.
On June 19, Pitt Law School Dean Amy Wildermuth and Berringer visited Roberts to present her with a military “Challenge” coin and honor her uncle.
“He would be pleased, but he wouldn’t want all of this. No, no,” said Roberts. “He was humble. He did everything in a very quiet way, and accomplished so much. You never knew what was going on in the background.”
Berringer said Colmery’s legacy is well worth trumpeting.
“It’s one of those things that can change the trajectory of the life of somebody like me,” she said. “I was able to break the cycle of poverty, all due to the GI Bill.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .