A stirring ceremony in the Senate Chamber at the State Capitol Wednesday celebrated Texas Military Recognition Day and the presence of a POW who had been repatriated 30 years ago that very day was not only poignant, but it brings back memories of one of the most honored former Longhorns athletes ever.
Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst both spoke as a Medal of Honor winner, a Purple Heart recipient and a POW from the Vietnam War received special citations. The POW, former U.S. Army Sgt. Ken Wallingford of Austin, spent 10 months in a five-by six-foot "tiger cage" before he was freed on Feb. 12, 1973.
The patriotic ceremony would have been saluted appropriately by Kearie Lee Berry, whose remarkable career as an athlete and a soldier and a patriot is without peer.
K.L. Berry came to The University of Texas in 1912. Over the next 12 years, he earned all-conference honors in the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association in '14, captained the 1915 Texas team, fought a World War, returned to school and, at the age of 31 in '24, was named an All-Southwest Conference lineman in his second stint with the Longhorns football team.
He was just beginning.
Berry attended UT from 1912-16 and then began a military career, which would last a lifetime. In World War I, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1917, and rose to the rank of captain by '20. He came back to school to complete his degree as soldier and a War Department student in 1924 and rejoined the football team.
His military career took him to such remote places as Siberia and Manila in the Philippines and it was there that he experienced the same horrors that only men such as Ken Wallingford know.
Berry was in the Philippines at the start of the American phase of World War II. Col. K.L. Berry was in command of a U.S. Infantry Division that was cut off from its main force in the mountains of the Bataan peninsula in 1942. The unit was entirely surrounded.
After five fierce days of jungle fighting, Berry's troops successfully withdrew, wading down the beaches and climbing over rocky headlands. They trapped and annihilated 1,500 Japanese in the "Little Tuoi pocket."
However, as Japanese naval and infantry forces converged on the area, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was forced to retreat from the island, leaving Berry and the other U.S. defenders trapped. On April 9, 1942, Berry and his men were captured. He would receive a Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained when four Japanese clubbed and beat him after the surrender.
The fall of Bataan was one of the most crushing defeats in American military history, but the atrocities that followed would go down as one of the lowest moments in all of humanity. For nine days, the emaciated prisoners would be driven 65 miles on foot. Some 15,000 perished en route. If they didn't die of thirst, starvation or exposure, they were killed by the Japanese, who whipped, beat and shot those who stumbled or paused to try to drink from a puddle or stream along the road.
However, Berry, and a few hundred like him, survived the march and spent 40 months as a Prisoner of War.
Following his liberation and the end of the War, Berry received the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star and Philippine Legion of Honor.
In 1946, Berry achieved the rank of General, and in 1947, he became the Adjutant General of Texas. So respected was Berry that in 1959 he was named to only the third induction class of the Longhorn Hall of Honor, becoming one of the first 12 men ever chosen for the award.
Lt. Gen. K. L. Berry died in 1965, but he would have been proud Wednesday as the state of Texas honored its military heroes. His life included work as a professor of military science and tactics at Vermont in 1929 and '30. At the same time, he was coaching freshman football and varsity basketball. He was one of the stars of the fabled Second Texas Infantry football team, which became legendary while stationed on the Mexican Border in 1916.
Most of all, Berry exemplified the commitment, bravery and valor that Gov. Perry was talking about when he honored veterans and the men and women of today's Armed Forces at the Capitol.
He was willing to fight, not for the purpose of making war, but to secure and preserve great peace. As George Breazeale of the Austin American-Statesman wrote when he died, "After that (his time as a teacher and coach), Berry had wars to win. As he had in sports, he always gave the best that was in him."