PALMYRA — When Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Cray crossed the bridge on U.S. Route 2 in Palmyra May 7 going to and coming from the funeral in Bangor of his fallen comrade, Cpl. Eugene Cole, he remembered Maine State Trooper Thomas Merry.

Merry, 28, the new father of a son, Ben, was killed on July 12, 1980, near that bridge when he was struck by a car involved in a high-speed chase. Merry had parked his cruiser as part of a roadblock and was attempting to seek safe cover when he was hit by the fleeing car.

He had joined the state police only three years earlier.

A granite monument to the fallen trooper was erected in a ceremony attended by more than 200 people near the bridge over the Sebasticook River in 1998.

A decade later, the state replaced the old, green-arched iron bridge with a flat, nondescript unit, raising the roadway and moving it slightly to the south.

The monument, already hard to see from the road, was even further obscured.

Now, Cray and others are getting ready to move the monument to higher ground, where it can be easily seen from the road.

“It was in the thought process to get something started on it,” Cray, who is vice-chairman of the Palmyra Board of Selectmen, said. “I had been driving back and forth every day and you couldn’t see it. When we went by with Gene’s funeral procession, I thought it would have been nice to have the flag or something there so that the people could also remember Tom.”

Cray said he was a police officer with the neighboring town of Pittsfield and a good friend of Merry in those years. He said Tom’s son, Ben, and Cray’s daughter, Jennifer, were born a few weeks apart in 1980.

Maine State Police Trooper Thomas Merry Maine Department of Public Safety photo

“On a personal note, as a personal friend of Tom’s, and as a working comrade with Gene Cole and all law enforcement, I would like to see this get done,” Cray said.

“Initially, it was hard to see,” he said of the monument. “And then, when they changed the bridge about 10 years ago, they raised the road and even made it worse.”

Cray said the monument is to be moved to town-owned land across the road to the west end of the bridge — which, he hopes, will be named the Trooper Thomas J. “TJ” Merry Memorial Bridge.

The monument currently sits on land at the east end of the bridge, down a small embankment in a gathering of pine trees. There were potted flowers there on a recent afternoon.

There also is a granite bench, with the words: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” from John 15:13 of the King James Version of the Bible.

Trooper Merry’s son, Ben, of Wellington, who was just six months old when his father was killed, said he has not heard much about the plans to make the monument more visible, but likes the idea.

“I would appreciate it,” he said by phone Thursday.

He said he’s been told over the years about his father and that Tom Merry was “outstanding, loyal and a great father for what he could be.”

Efforts to reach Merry’s widow, Debbi Merry, were unsuccessful.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster, a former state trooper himself, was a detective for the Skowhegan Police Department in 1980 when Merry was killed. When the monument was dedicated in 1998, Lancaster was commander of State Police Troop C Barracks in Skowhegan. He and then-Col. Mac Dow, chief of the Maine State Police, conducted the ceremony, with Merry’s wife, Debbi, mother Erla and son Ben present for the dedication.

Lancaster said the monument was made by Elias Monuments in Madison and that Trooper Merry attended Madison Area Memorial High School.

“It was a day to remember Tom and the sacrifice that he gave to the state of Maine — it was a sad day and a happy day,” Lancaster said. “It was a sad day in the fact that a trooper had died in the line of duty protecting the citizens of the state of Maine, and it was a happy day that we were able to memorialize his efforts. There were a lot of people that day. It was a very nice ceremony.”

 

Trooper Thomas Merry’s widow, Debbie, his mother, Erla, and son, Ben, at the dedication of the monument in his honor in 1998. Nearly 200 people attended the dedication along Route 2 in Palmyra. Now the monument is to be moved to a more visible site nearby. Maine Department of Public Safety photo

Lt. Mark Brooks, the current commander of State Police Troop C Barracks in Skowhegan, said Merry left behind his young family, who lived “almost in sight of where the tragic event took place, and his memorial serves as a constant reminder of that sacrifice.”

“Any effort to remind fellow citizens of the sacrifice that Trooper Tom Merry made on their behalf is an idea I am interested in,” Brooks said. “Trooper Merry selflessly made a decision to try to stop a dangerous situation and as a result his life was taken away too soon. Trooper Merry was a dedicated trooper whose actions reflect great credit on himself, the Maine State Police and the citizens of Maine.”

Brooks said his department has been in contact with a member of the Merry family, whom he said wants to make sure that the new location of the monument will offer a safe place for visitors to park and walk to the site without interfering with Route 2 traffic in Palmyra.

“The Maine State Police thanks the Board of Selectmen in Palmyra for their ideas, collaboration and team work as together we try to honor Trooper Tom Merry in a greater fashion in the days ahead,” Brooks said. “Anything that we can do to honor and remember the sacrifice of Trooper Tom Merry is something we are delighted to be a part of.”

Retired Maine State Trooper Mark Nickerson, now president of the Maine State Troopers Foundation, said Cray contacted him with the idea of moving the monument to a more visible site and that he was all for it. He said Merry was in his section when he was killed that evening in July 1980 and was a good friend.

“I was immediately on board with (Cray’s) idea and ran the idea by the Maine State Troopers Foundation board,” Nickerson said in an email to the Morning Sentinel. “We decided that we would help out any way we could and offer financial assistance if needed as well. Not many people know of the monument over the bank at the bridge, and this should be a great solution for the bridge and the monument.”

Cray, 62, said plans for the monument include the safety aspect for visitors to the future site.

“The selectmen are all on board with getting this work done — they all approved it,” he said.

He said the Maine Department of Transportation is involved with plans for the move and the Palmyra Community Center Boosters are raising money for the project. Local contractor Far and Beyond Landscaping has offered to do the groundwork for the project.

“It probably won’t be done until the end of the summer — August or September,” Cray said. “The bridge was never named in Tom’s name, so I’d like to see that, but that has to go through the legislative process and we’ll be initiating that.”

The Maine House of Representatives and the Maine Senate both have approved a bill to name the bridge over the Kennebec River in Norridgewock after Cpl. Cole, and Gov. Paul LePage will be considering the bill for signing over the next week.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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