A Vietnam Veteran’s Lifelong Marist Connection
November 6, 2023 — Service has been a defining element of Bill Kuffner's life. As a devoted alumnus from the Class of 1968, he answered the call to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps shortly after earning his degree from Marist. Along his path, Kuffner uncovered the enduring nature of his bond with Marist and the College is now preparing to pay tribute to him later this week at McCann Arena.
Kuffner, who roomed with his twin brother Dan during their sophomore year, graduated in May of '68. In September, Bill entered Officer Candidate School, embarking on a demanding 23-week training program to prepare him for the role of a Marine infantry platoon commander. By August 1969, he was stationed in South Vietnam, leading his own unit in the 7th Motor Transport Battalion, in support of the 3rd Marine Division's combat operations.
Marist Alumni Connect In Peace & War
Service was a defining characteristic of Marist's Class of 1968. Several graduates, including Kuffner, were deployed to South Vietnam. While there, by sheer coincidence, Kuffner and a few other recent Marist alumni were stationed in the same area simultaneously. This remarkable meeting took place in August 1969 when Kuffner and four fellow Marist officers were assigned to the vicinity near the Demilitarized Zone.
Marist alumni in Quang Tri, Vietnam, September 1969: From left, Bill Kuffner '68, Mike Santimauro '68, John Casserly '67, Brendan Burke '68, and Jim Barnes '68. Photo courtesy of Marist Archives.
The meeting, captured in an old Polaroid, shows alumni Kuffner, Mike Santimauro '68, John Casserly '67, Brendan Burke '68, and Jim Barnes '68 together. Kuffner had forgotten about the photo for years. Turns out the picture was sent by Burke to Marist's then-registrar, Betty O'Brien. Years later, the photo was discovered in her archive and published in Marist Magazine. The photo not only captured their time in Vietnam, but also the camaraderie shared among Marist alumni.
“I was the last one of us to arrive 'in country,'" Kuffner recounted. "In the Marines, there's a tradition where someone of equal rank welcomes you into the battalion. The lieutenant who welcomed me was Brendan Burke, who then informed me that Barnes, Santimauro, and Casserly were in the same battalion! Out of the 20 officers in the battalion, five were Marist Marines."
An Honor at McCann Arena
This Thursday, Bill will step in as the honorary guest coach for the Marist women's basketball team in their season-opening matchup against Army during the third annual Veterans Appreciation Basketball Game at McCann Arena. The College honors one veteran each year to sit on the bench with the team during the game. In last year's game, the College unveiled the Chair of Honor inside McCann, paying tribute to Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action.
When asked about his enthusiasm for this guest coaching role and if he had any words of wisdom for the players, Kuffner simply quipped, "Just shoot the ball!" Bill will also be honored at the College's annual Veterans Day Luncheon on Friday.
For the Kuffner family, Marist is a family affair. Dan Kuffner '68 received the Dr. Dennis J. Murray Distinguished Service Award from the Alumni Association in 2016. Dan says this honor for his brother is well-deserved.
“The Marist tradition of service stayed with Bill his entire career and he is an excellent example of that tradition,” Dan said. “It makes perfect sense to me that he be requested to be the guest coach for the women's basketball game versus Army and the featured speaker at the Veterans Day Luncheon as he is the most honorable man I know.”
Bill’s daughter Margaret also graduated from Marist in 2006. The family’s commitment to the College continues to this day.
“The Class of '68 played a pivotal role not only in Marist's history but also in the United States during the Vietnam conflict," said Amy Woods '97, Executive Director of Marist's Office of Alumni Relations. "Bill Kuffner and other alumni served their country with honor. On the 50th anniversary of the war's end, we extend our heartfelt salute to them. Bill and his twin brother, Dan, both '68 alumni, have been outstanding supporters of Marist, actively engaged with our community. They are cherished members of our Red Fox family."
Marist’s Lifelong Impact on Kuffner
After the war, Kuffner began a career in the financial services industry, where he served in executive positions at M&T Bank, Continental Bank of Chicago, and Citibank. He’s now retired and lives in Western New York with his wife Barbara, whom he married just four weeks before leaving for Vietnam. Kuffner's journey is a testament to the lasting connections and sense of community that define the Marist experience.
“Marist was the perfect place for me to be at that time in my life. 300+ guys, mostly from working-class families found great friendships that have lasted for 55 years,” Bill said. “The Marist Brothers — Stokes, Kelly, LaPietra, Lang, to name just a few — were wonderful men who knew what to do and when to do it every time! Marist prepared me to venture forward personally and professionally.”
Reflecting on a Life of Service
Bill emphasizes that his lifelong friendships and family connections, 55 years after graduation, continue to enrich his life, transforming the Marist experience into a treasured and lasting memory.
“Our parents endured the Great Depression and World War II in which many of our fathers and uncles served,” he said. "When we came home from Nam, we were disrespected for our service. It was many years before I mentioned I was a Nam Vet. Now I am very proud of my service and wear a Marine Corps cover all the time.”
2022 Veterans Appreciation Basketball Game. Photo courtesy of Marist College Athletics.
Veterans Appreciation Basketball Game at McCann Arena
The Veterans Appreciation Basketball Game on Thursday tips off at 7 p.m. and with free admission for veterans. The game will incorporate multiple special presentations to honor our veterans. Non-veterans can purchase tickets here.
November 11, 2021 Flag Raising on Veterans Day. Photo by Zachary Gawron/Marist College.
A Commitment to Veterans
Marist is dedicated to assisting student veterans in achieving their academic goals, offering support from the application process to commencement. The College is committed to aiding veterans through tuition benefits and personalized degree completion plans, ensuring they graduate well-prepared for civilian sector careers.