Bernice Feres: Her Story, Her Family, and Her Lasting Impact

Meet the widow and mother behind the famous court opinion. There is very little known about Bernice Feres, or her fight for accountability and justice. Below are some excerpts throughout history detailing her heroic fight against the Department of Defense. After years of being pushed aside and forgotten, we now honor Bernice and her efforts. To learn more about Bernice, please see below.

Lt. Rudolph Joseph Feres was born October 27, 1916 in New York. Once again, there is little known about his life, but we do know that he enlisted in the United States Army in 1935. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Regiment, and 82nd Airborne Division. His home base was Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Below is a clipping from the Press and Sun-Bulletin.

Bernice Bunnell was born July 29, 1919 in New York. As mentioned above, there is very little known about Bernice and her life.

To the left is a New York State Birth Index listing from 1919. Though it is hard to read, one can read Bernice’s name at the bottom of the right corner.

Per the Press and Sun-Bulletin, Bernice and Lt. Rudolph Feres were married on January 17, 1940 in the Pine Camp Chapel, New York. They were married for close to eight years, until Lt. Feres untimely passing.

Six years into their marriage, Bernice and Rudolph welcomed the one and only son, Ward Bunnell Feres, at 2:45 am in January of 1946. Pictured to the right is Bernice and Ward, shortly after his birth.

Following his arrival back home, Lt. Feres was sent toto Upstate New York for four months of winter airborne maneuvers, “Exercise Snowdrop”. This began November 1st of 1947.

On December 10, 1947, Lt. Rudolph Feres died in the Pine Camp Barracks Fire at the age of 31. In addition to Lt. Feres, three officers were killed and five officers and an enlisted man were injured. Those that were killed were Lt. Robert Manly of Manhattan, KS, Lt. Wallace Swilley of High Springs, FL, and Capt. Robert Dodge of Petersburg, PA. Eight officers managed to escape by jumping out of the second story windows. Unfortunately, Capt. Frank Turner who was injured later succumbed to his burns. It was later noted that the fire was caused by a faulty boiler. It should also be noted that the WWII built barracks had very limited safety procedures and exits.

Ward was 11 months old at the time of his father’s death.

Lt. Feres’ body was returned home to Binghamton, New York, where he was laid to rest. He was given full military honors with the addition of the Post 80 of the American Legion.

Now a widow and single mother, Bernice took the tragic death of her husband to court. Claiming the Army did not provide her husband with the proper a place to live and work.

To the left is a newspaper clipping from August 1948 and below is a newspaper clipping from November of 1948, citing the FTCA (Federal Torts Claim Act) of 1946.

It should be noted that the families of the officers killed in fire also filed separate lawsuits as well. Bernice Feres was the first out of the five to do so.

This clipping shows the progression of the case in 1949. This was originally dismissed and debated on, but was later tried in the U.S. Supreme Court. In the next section are the newspaper clippings from the ruling of Feres v. United States (a combination of three separate negligent cases against the United States military.

This is the news clipping in October of 1950, leading up to the “final ruling” in 1950.

On December 5, 1950, the United States Supreme Court ruled against Bernice Feres, Arthurs K. Jefferson, and the family of Lt. Col Dudley R. Griggs. Ultimately, given the Department of Defense immunity against any and all negligent and medical malpractice claims, which still stands to this day.

Almost three years after the Supreme Court Ruling, Ward Feres died on November 20, 1953. He estimated to be 6 or 7, and in the second grade. It is believed that he died of pneumonia. Bernice now lost her husband, son, and was denied the justice of her husbands death.

At the age of 46, Bernice died. Now joining her husband and son. Similar to the rest of her story, there is very little known about Bernice’s life and what happened after her son and husband died. Bernice had the courage to take on DOD as a grieving wife and a mother to an infant. For that we thank and honor her. Bernice tried in every way to seek accountably for her husband and to this day, DOD continues to bully families who’s loved ones died due to negligent acts and malpractice.

Sign In


Reset Password

Please enter your username or email address, you will receive a link to create a new password via email.