He was killed in the line of duty a week before he could deliver it, in an F-18 crash on May 17, 1995, and it was read by our family friend, Admiral Tom Marfiak, in his place.
On this, the occasion of the 21st anniversary of Dad's death in service, I thought it poignant to share this.
Dad’s Memorial Day Speech 1995
(Delivered by Admiral Tom Marfiak, May 29, 1995)
Mr. Doherty, thank you. Mr. Lewis, members of the Patriotic holiday committee, thank you for inviting me to speak today.
Veterans, most especially World War II veterans in this 50th anniversary year of your sacrifice and victory; family members of veterans, most especially those related to soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen or merchant mariners who gave up their lives in the service of our country; fellow townsmen; this sailor is humbled by the privilege of returning to my hometown, to speak on your behalf, in honoring the memory of the heroes of my youth, and the inspiration for my military service, our beloved war dead.
The commemorations earlier this month of the 50th Anniversary of Victory in Europe, and the 50th Anniversary Victory of Japan commemoration ceremonies scheduled for Pearl Harbor the first week in September, have brought this Memorial Day into sharper focus than has been the case in recent years. This will not be the last time these World War II veterans muster to salute their fallen comrades. Family members and friends will feel the pain of their loss until the day they leave this earth. But this is likely to be the last time that collectively, we, as citizens of this town, and of this nation, will pay special and specific tribute to the sixty men from Andover, shipmates,
comrades in arms, buddies, husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, nephews, cousins, sweethearts, classmates and teammates who were killed in action in World War II or who died as a consequence of that conflict.
I ask you to join me, as well, in remembering and saluting those wounded in that war, both physically and psychologically, some so grievously they have lived the remainder of their lives in great pain or distress in our Veterans hospitals. Similarly, please take a moment to think of, thank and comfort those family members and friends who suffered the loss of a loved one.
Before moving to Andover when I was seven, I had spent much of my life in my grandparents home in Belmont. It was a typical lower middle - upper working class horne. My grandparents were first generation born Irish Americans. My grandfather left school after the eighth grade to support his family. My grandmother was the first among her extended family to graduate from high school, preceding Patrick Ewing by a few years as the star basketball player and team captain at Cambridge's Ridge Technical High School. My grandparents never owned nor drove a car. As with most couples in those circumstances, their hope, pride, and ambition was wrapped up in their children.
By the time I was born in January 1944, their oldest daughter, my godmother, Aunt Margaret had finished secretarial school, gone to Washington to work in the war effort and met and married a Navy Chief Petty Officer who had survived the sinking of the Battleship Oklahoma, which had capsized at Pearl Harbor. My Mother, the second child, after a year in college, had married her high school sweetheart, when my Dad got temporary respite from North Atlantic convoy duty for his mother's funeral.
Fifty years ago today, both Dad and Uncle Keith were serving in the Western Pacific, Morn and Aunt Margaret were back living with their parents, and the house in Belmont proudly displayed a gold star in the window at the foot of the staircase. The family's pride and joy, my Uncle Paul, Class Secretary of the Belmont High School class of 1943, top student, soccer team halfback, hockey captain and twice Greater Boston Interscholastic league all star defenseman, and the right handed pitching star of
the state high school and American Legion state baseball champions, a happy, handsome boy, a beloved son, brother, brother in law, classmate and friend, had been killed by German mortar fire in the Ardennes in December 1944.
I was of course, too young to be immediately aware of the tragedy that had befallen the family, where I reigned supreme as the first grandchild . But, I was there when the dreaded telegram was delivered, when the simple, eloquently kind letter came from Paul's Company Commander, when the ship returning his body from the American Cemetery in Belgium docked in New York, when the family held his wake in the living room, when he was reburied in the Belmont Town cemetery. I was there on many a Sunday when my grandparents had friends or family drive them out to care for the grave, plant fresh flowers and say a prayer. I was there when high school teammates came calling to the house where they had known only laughter and hope for the future, and now could only remember, offer consolation, and speculate about what might have been.
I was there for the memorial masses at st Joseph's church. I was there when the Town of Belmont dedicated the new Belmont High School field house in Paul's name; and I was there with my
grandparents for many a Memorial Day ceremony such as this.
I was there when my grandfather lovingly pasted mementos of these events in a scrap book, when my grandmother opened the drawer in her dresser and sighed as she fingered the baseball uniforms, the American Legion Drum and Bugle corps cap, and the high school graduation watch they had saved so long to buy. And I was there when my grandparents kissed me good-bye with looks of speechless longing, as I left for my own combat tour in 1968.
I have personalized this memorial, not to single out one soldier, who wasn't from Andover, but to lead us all away from the tone which these ceremonies occasionally take on -- the collective, all too easily mechanical, “thanks for dying for us, whoever you are" tip of our hat to a nameless, faceless group who died in some long ago war.
Each of Andover's 60 killed in action, each of our severely wounded, everyone of our Andover veteran's comrades who suffered similar fates, earned their right to an individual personalized
memorial I can only symbolize here today.
I treasure the memory of my shipmates who died in combat. Not a week goes by that I don't think of Bubba Brewton's lopsided smile, miserable basketball skills, and quiet courage, and leadership by example; I think of picking up the remains of Bruce McFarland's lifeless body, just hours after we'd shared a root beer, of my last conversation with Jim Thames, Doug Vaughan, Dick Pershing, Derrick Brooks and Vinny Lee. Not a day went by that my grandparents didn't think of their son.
Our Andover veterans and other Andover families harbor and nurture equally vivid personal memories. For them, our war dead and maimed are individual faces, treasured moments, a special
look, a never repeated touch.
Collectively, on behalf of all your fellow townsmen, on behalf of a grateful nation, we who gather here today with you, thank you for your sacrifices. A sacrifice which in a moment of great national peril, preserved our country, and its great hope for all on this earth. Your pride in your own service and sacrifice, your pride in those with whom you served, your pride in those whom you lost, is our pride and inspiration.
God bless our veterans, God bless our war dead, God bless and comfort their families, God bless and protect our servicemen and women serving around the world today, and God bless and
preserve the United states of America.