Editorial: Pause on Memorial Day

Editorial: Pause on Memorial Day

Five years ago, Yvonne (Berube) Sylvia of Edgartown walked into the office of The Martha’s Vineyard Times carrying a large blue scrapbook. On the cover was a piece of tape, on which she had written: “Brother Edmund J. Berube. Born August 18, 1918. Killed March 3, 1945.”

The book, its pages frail and yellowed over time, contained photos, letters, documents and clippings Mrs. Sylvia had assembled to preserve the memory of her brother and to document his accomplishments.

By all accounts, Edmund Berube was a gifted athlete who excelled at track and basketball. He co-captained Edgartown High School’s 1935-36 championship basketball team and was president of his senior class. He worked at the Colonial Drug Store, owned by Len Henrickson.

He entered the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in the spring of 1941. Just as in high school, Mr. Berube was very popular with his classmates and was elected president of his senior class. He expected to finish college and to return to Edgartown to work at the Colonial Drug Store.

As the fighting on all the war’s fronts grew in intensity, there was a dire need for men with the type of medical training provided by the College of Pharmacy. In 1943, Mr. Berube and the 72 other members of the class of 1944 learned that there would be no break, but that they would attend classes and graduate on October 27 as part of an accelerated wartime program.

Lewis Lappas of Boston, valedictorian of the first class of 1943, described the disruption the war had created in the professional and personal plans of his classmates as part of his graduation oration delivered that February. “We must lay aside our plans for further study, our hopes for marriage, for homes, for professional careers,” he said to his fellow graduates. “Undoubtedly these things will come to most of us in time, but not immediately; and they will come to none unless we gladly postpone them now in order to do our share in the re-creation of the kind of American world in which such things will again be possible.”

Two months after he received a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy, Mr. Berube joined the Navy.

The scrapbook contained 15 letters Mr. Berube sent to his sister between the time he arrived in the Pacific and landed on Iwo Jima with the Third Marine Division. The first envelope was dated October 7, 1944, the last, February 15, 1945.

Mr. Berube was with Marines who had already had experience fighting the Japanese. If he was worried or concerned because of what he had learned and consequently what he might expect, he never shared such anxious thoughts with his sister.

On February 13, five days before the first wave of Marines landed on the black volcanic soil of Iwo Jima, Mr. Berube sent his last letter to his sister. He criticized some of the movies shown to the troops but wrote not a word of the upcoming battle or non-stop bombardment of the island that he witnessed. He wrote about photos he recently received. “I really like your picture and also the one with Albert [her husband]. They really made me feel wonderful all over, it took me back to the days when you were in school in Boston and all the fun we had. That of course is one of the things we have to help us though blue days. I do not like to look back, but rather ahead to the future when everything can be done as you want and have your good times as normal humans. I hope some day I can walk into someplace out here and meet someone from Edgartown.”

Mr. Berube’s unit landed on Iwo Jima, on February 22. On March 3, a Japanese sniper shot Edmund Berube as he was crawling over a stone to help a wounded Marine. He was 26 years old and one of the 6,800 servicemen killed in a battle defined by its unrestrained ferocity.

At the request of his mother, his body was returned from Iwo Jima, in April 1948.

Edmund Berube is buried in Edgartown cemetery next to members of his family.

Last Tuesday, in Texas, Command Sgt. Maj. Martin R. Barreras, 49, of Tucson, Ariz., died at San Antonio Military Medical Center from wounds sustained when enemy forces opened fire on his unit May 6 in Herat province, Afghanistan.

Mr. Barreras was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. He had completed several combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In March 2013, Mr. Barreras was assigned as the senior enlisted adviser for the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, and deployed to Afghanistan in December 2013.

Command Sgt. Maj. Barreras is survived by a wife, two daughters and a son.

His was the most recent combat death in a 13-year-old war that began in 2001 and has now claimed 2,322 lives and added to the sad weight of scrapbooks in homes across America.

Memorial Day is set aside for the nation to honor men and women who died in the military service of the country. On Monday most of us will go about the business of enjoying holiday activities but it would be well, if even for a moment, to remember the sacrifice Memorial Day is meant to commemorate.

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