Memorial Day 2014: Remembrance and Resolution

Majority Leader Berry gave the Memorial Day Address at a well-attended event today in Legion Park at the Hallowell Cemetery, featuring the the Hall-Dale marching band and organized by Legion Post 6.

Majority Leader Berry with past Legion Post 6 Commander Ernest G. DeRaps, Memorial Day 2014

Thank you Commander Stuart. I’m honored to be here with you, and to have been invited to give the address today. At times like these I often wish I too could have served in our nation’s military. I was not able to do so because of a disability in my right leg, a severe club foot. I have found other ways to serve my country, but I still feel especially humbled when I am speaking in the presence of a group of veterans like yourselves.

Today we, the living, are humbled by the sacrifice and bravery of the dead. More than a million American men and women, who have given their lives from the Revolution, to the War on Terror. More than a million dinner tables where one seat is left empty. More than a million families with one less son or sister, mother or father. More than a million who fell so the rest of us could stand.

Look around. Read the names on these monuments. More than 650 from Hallowell alone. Whether their name was Goodrich or Caldwell, McPherson or MacAllister, every one of these fallen sons and daughters of America and Hallowell is a hero to us, today and every day.

Today is a day not just of remembrance, but also of resolution. It is a day to decorate and commemorate. But it is also a holiday to spend with our living loved ones, and celebrate the light and warmth returning to this world. It is a day for inspiration. A day to hear not just the mournful bugle call of Taps, but also the rousing bugle call of Reveille.

Each of us has our own, personal inspiration as we stand here. For me, Memorial Day is a day to remember my grandfather, Bill Sperl. Bill was the son of a German immigrant to America. If he had been born back in Germany, his name would have been Wilhelm Sperl rather than William. But when he volunteered to serve in World War Two, leaving a new wife and an infant daughter at home, he was like any other American signing up to serve his country. And in the mud of Belgium in 1944, in the harsh winter of 1945 in western Germany, in the trenches and the bombed-out buildings and the blood of his platoon comrades, most of whom were killed in the allies’ legendary defense against the fearsome Panzer divisions in the Battle of the Bulge, Captain Bill Sperl was as American as they come.

Bill, or “Red” as his friends called him, was one of the lucky ones. He came home and got to know his daughter, whose early years he had missed. He dedicated himself to building peace by helping children, as a YMCA instructor, as a school principal, and as a grandfather.

Bill Sperl lived just twenty minutes from here, in Washington, Maine. I grew up at his knee, hanging on his every word. My brother and I couldn’t hear his war stories often enough, especially his stories about the Battle of the Bulge, where more than ⅔ of his platoon was killed, and they were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, yet the Allies managed to stop the massive German offensive.

What my grandfather never let on was that the loss of so many close friends, so of his many brothers in arms, was hard to bear. To forget for a short while, he drank beer. To calm his nerves, he smoked. To my brother and me, he was forever jolly and wise and fun to be with. He would take us fishing or hunting or teach us to scrape and paint the house, he’d buy us some bubble gum, and we’d be happy as clams. As kids, we didn’t think twice about the beer or cigarettes. But when Gramps died in his early 60s, at Togus, it was the invisible wounds of war, and his silent self-medication over decades, that took him away from us.

So in his memory, today I want to say that honoring our fallen heroes does not begin and end with decorating a grave, and going to a barbecue.

It means we take care of those fallen heroes’ families, left crippled by the loss of a father or mother, a spouse or son or daughter.

It means we take care of those who have come home — but have injuries either visible or invisible. It means that we make absolutely, unquestionably sure these returning heroes can find jobs, and higher education, and health care.

To honor our fallen heroes begins today with taps and sadness, but it ends with reveille and a call to action.

What is the inspiration you will take from our honored dead today? What is the bugle call our fallen heroes send you today?

If each of us thinks deeply about those heroes today, we will also find or renew our personal inspiration, to serve our country in ways big and small.

I hope many who hear the call today, at parades and events around the nation, will someday serve in our country’s military. I hope others are inspired to build peace by working with children, taking care of the elderly or disabled, teaching conflict resolution, finding ways to feed the hungry, or creating art that makes us think and love rather than hate and fight. Because as sure as there are many roads to Augusta and to Arlington, there are many ways to build and defend peace and democracy.

It is our task today not just to remember, but also to find inspiration from our honored dead — and to resolve together, as Lincoln said, that they shall not have died in vain, and that together, we the living can give this nation and world a new birth of liberty, of peace, and of shared prosperity.

Thank you.

Veterans’ Monument and Legion Park, Hallowell Cemetary