Welcome to Memorial Day 2023 in our beloved Somerville. The rhythmic changing of the seasons and the inevitable passage of time bring us back together to this hallowed ground of New Cemetery to again reflect upon and honor the legacy and sacrifice of those who have died in the service of our country.
Two hundred and forty-eight years have passed since a ragtag militia group of seventy-seven farmers, merchants, and tradesmen challenged over four hundred highly trained, well-armed British regulars in the fields of Lexington, Massachusetts. When the conflict drew in scope and numbers at Concord Bridge and the day ended in a British retreat, forty-nine colonists lay dead. The struggle for American independence and the tradition of the American citizen-soldier had begun.
Over the past two- and one-half centuries, an estimated forty-one million American men and women have served in the U.S. military, and over one million have made the ultimate sacrifice. Some rest in peace in hometown family plots, some in national military cemeteries, some in overseas graves, some at sea, and sadly, many in unknown, unmarked, and unvisited sites in remote areas of the globe. These tragic dead deserve our special attention on this day of remembrance.
One such soldier is Somerville’s own United States Army PFC Robert Francis Scherdin. A 1965 graduate of Somerville High School, where he excelled in a range of activities from sports to theater to publications, Robert left Somerville to enroll at the Citadel Military College in Charleston, South Carolina. His father’s untimely death cut short Robert’s education, and he returned home to care for his mother. Robert enlisted in the Army and was eventually shipped to the Vietnam theater of operations. He served in various secret and highly classified activities involving strategic reconnaissance and interdiction into neighboring Laos and Cambodia, where he was wounded on December 19, 1968. An initial rescue mission eleven days later had to be aborted, and a second attempt resulted in a helicopter crash on its return to base. The entire four- man crew perished, and Scherdin’s was not among the bodies found in the wreckage. His condition and whereabouts remain unknown to this day, 19,875 days since he was last seen almost 9000 miles from home. Robert’s presence in Somerville today is witnessed by displays of personal effects both at Somerville High School and at American Legion Post 12, and with a marker in Immaculate Conception Cemetery on Union Ave. It is our fervent hope that the continuing efforts of POW-MIA advocacy groups such as Rolling Thunder will one day bring him home to the loving family and community that nurtured him in his youth.
As we leave here today to welcome in the summer season with friends and family, let us carry with us the memory of Robert Francis Scherdin and the countless citizen- soldiers of the past. May their deeds inspire us to treasure always the freedoms built and sustained by their sacrifice, and may their devotion to duty strengthen our resolve to ensure that the beacon of hope that is America continues to light the world. May God continue to bless each of you, our Somerville community, the great state of New Jersey, and our United States of America.
Mayor Dennis Sullivan
May 29, 2023