Mary Slack remembers the day the motorcade carrying her son’s coffin arrived in Waterville.

Governor’s Restaurant, near the Interstate 95 bridge over Main Street, had hung a banner that said, “Welcome Home, Specialist Slack.”

It was May 2010 and Army Specialist Wade A. Slack, 21, had died from combat wounds inflicted by enemy mortar fire in Afghanistan.

News of his death on May 6 had come as a shock to his family and friends. The entire city went into mourning for a young man who had graduated in 2007 from Waterville High School, played Little League as a youngster and especially loved the outdoors.

Though nine years have passed, the memory of his sacrifice is still poignant for those who knew and loved him, especially his mother. Fearing one day he might be forgotten, Mary Slack got the idea of finding out whether the Interstate 95 bridge over Main Street could be named for her son. She and her family often eat at Governor’s Restaurant, from which they would be able to see the bridge and on which signs bearing his name could be placed.

“I just thought it would be a very nice memorial for him,” Mary Slack said Tuesday.

Last summer, she presented the idea to her friends, then-Rep. Thomas R.W. Longstaff, D-Waterville, and his wife, Cindy.

Alan Slack, left, stands with his soldier son, Wade Slack, in 2008 at the son’s graduation from EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) School at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Photo courtesy of Lauren Slack

“I immediately thought that would be a great idea, and I’d be perfectly willing to move it forward,” Longstaff, a veteran of the Marine Corps and a former city councilor, recalled. “It was too late to put a bill in and I was term-limited, but I arranged for staff to get the bill drafted and in the reviser’s office.”

Longstaff, a retired Colby College professor of biblical languages and literature, testified before the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation on the bill, L.D. 39, “Resolve, To Designate a Bridge in Waterville as the Specialist Wade A. Slack Memorial Bridge.” He said he and his wife had known the Slack family more than 40 years; that Wade Slack’s father, the late Alan Slack, had been their veterinarian for many years; and that the bill would be an appropriate way to recognize Wade Slack’s service and sacrifice. Wade Slack’s sister, Lauren, also testified. She said her brother was much more than a “military death statistic.”

“He was one of nine kids in a blended family, and the only one who took it upon himself to sign up for military service,” she said. “He was the jokester and confidant big brother to his younger twin brothers. To the rest of his siblings, he was, frankly, the favorite. He was a hard kid not to love. He tried to bring out the best in everyone he came into contact with. He always wanted to lend a hand, make a friend smile and raise someone’s spirits. He loved birthdays and Christmas, and the chance to give gifts.”

Lauren Slack said her brother’s death took a huge toll on family and friends.

“Our father, Alan Slack, passed away less than two years later, followed by our sister, Allison Slack,” she said. “We’d like to think Wade will be remembered by how he lived his life, but time goes on and memories fade. Our Dad’s biggest fear was that Wade died in this war, so young, so full of potential, and he was going to be forgotten. It is a simple thing if you think about it. Just a name on a bridge. His family and friends would be honored to have this bridge bearing his name. We can smile and remember the good times with Wade. And the rest of the world can see his name and know that this man was a soldier who died for their freedom, a hero who grew up in Waterville, Maine.”

The bridge-naming bill, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, who represents part of Waterville and Oakland, and co-sponsored by other area legislators, got unanimous votes in March from both the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation and the full Legislature and was signed by Gov. Janet Mills. The Waterville City Council also supported the measure.

Paul Merrill, public information officer for the Department of Transportation, tells me two signs will be placed at the bridge — one at each end, so that drivers traveling south or north on I-95 will be able to see them. He did not know exactly when they will be erected, but he said the traffic folks have the go-ahead to place them there.

Wade Slack and his family deserve to be recognized for his sacrifice. The bridge-naming is a perfect way for us to remember him, not only this Memorial Day, but always.

Longstaff said it most appropriately.

“All of us who served in the military, when we took the oath going in, essentially we were making a pledge to the country that we would defend our freedom with everything we had, up to and including our life. Wade was one of those who kept that promise to the final stage.

“We often hear the phrase, ‘They should not be forgotten.’ Memorial Day is to remember whose who fulfilled the ultimate pledge to give their lives. On Memorial Day, we remember those who died.”

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

 


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