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A flash from the past: A life well lived, a memoir of Bill Speight

Date: 3/2/2009

By Amanda Butcher

Special to The Reminder

The Historical Commission asked me to write an article to honor the memory of William L. Speight. Some have called him a man about town, a real estate appraiser, amateur historian and a veteran himself.

I visited his office not long ago and found the working space of a diehard Yankee fan who was involved in various organizations such as the American Legion and the Knights of Columbus. He documented practically everything; he even kept a journal from when he went to Europe. Most of all, I noticed all the World War II memorabilia, whether it be calendars, books or various other items.

When I asked his son Mark what Mr. Speight would most want to be remembered by, he said, He wrote a book that compiled memories of WWII, and that was what he loved.

It was called Eagles and Elms, and below are some quotes from that book.

The war had a major impact on my young life We saved at school for War Bonds with a few cents each week and eagerly stripped tin foil from gum wrappers and took pride in rolling them into one big round ball.

In the spring of 1945, I was only eight years old. I can recall after hearing the news reports on the radio telling my second grade teacher, Mrs. Blanchard, that the war in Europe was nearly over. She began to show the whole class the map of Europe that she pulled down over the blackboard.

Our neighborhood was doing its share for the war effort I would hear my mother and father talking about the young men from town in the service.

One incident really had a personal impact on me! Towards the end of the war, one of our neighbors had a nephew in the Air Corps flying out of Westover. During a visit, he promised that on one of his next practice flights in the area, he would fly directly over their house. I knew about it but I did not know which day. One morning, I was upstairs in our house alone. I heard this loud noise of a plane nearby and suddenly the noise became louder and louder. I could not see the plane and if I could, perhaps I would not have been as scared I could not yell and I could not move to get downstairs which was only four feet away. I was petrified!!! Later, everyone seemed to think it was a big joke but I was unable to go back upstairs for about another 18 months. Years later, I reflected how awful and horrible it must have been for all the young English, German, Dutch, Japanese and French children to have to go through that fright night after night during the entire war.

When my cousin, Red Leahy, went into the Navy, there was a big party for him at his home with all his friends and relatives attending. I did not think much about it because I knew we were the good guys and we were going to win. I can remember towards the end of the gathering, the young people were dancing in the living room and his sister, Charlotte, asking him to dance with her. I thought going to war must be serious because you had to dance with your sister before you went to basic training.

I never got to know Mr. Speight, but from what I ve learned, I imagine a man with a story I would have loved to hear. His was a life well lived.

If you would like to learn more, you can view various articles from Mr. Speight s office in a display in the upper level of the East Longmeadow library.