Hal Shear was the finest man, naval officer, shipmate, comrade I have known. He had guts, enthusiasm, presence of mind, a never failing appreciation of the men and women working with him, or for him. He also had determination, an appetite for hard work, an inflexible determination to do things right. He stands among the great men this country has produced. Had the tocsin sounded in his direction he would have been ready, as he was for all the duties and trials that came his way.
I was once his commanding officer, and I know whereof I speak. One of an exec’s duties is occasionally to lay a two-by-four alongside his skipper’s head and thus help him do his job. If you have to do this, you do it tactfully, firmly, and with the utmost conviction. Once Hal gave his friendship, he gave it without reservation, and permanently-and the proof of his regard could well be in the size of the two-by-four and how he wielded it. This he did more than once for me, even while I was trying to boss him, and I’m the better man for it. I suspect many of those present on this sorrowful, respectful occasion could say something very similar.
One of the things driving military outfits like our Navy is we live by training, exercise constantly for readiness, and believe that somewhere in our organization there exists the Nimitz, or Halsey, or Spruance who will surface when and if they must and the need is there. Not to everyone is given the privilege of being at hand when the whistle blows hard, but in our naval history there have been those moments, and the men we needed were there. How else do we explain those giants, Nimitz, Halsey, and Spruance? And the others through our time? The answer, of course, is that they are always there. They are ready, and they need only to hear the call. Harold Edson Shear was one of those. It was not given to him to lead our fleet in glorious battle as did others, but had the bugle sounded in his direction we know exactly how he would have responded, for he was truly, as was said long ago about a famous knight, a man without fear and without reproach. We as a Navy, as a nation, are the better for his presence among us, and we join his devoted family in this sorrowful farewell.
Hal is of course well known to everyone in this room, and to everyone of our Navy. He is also well known to his community of New London and Groton. of which he became an integral part. Even in the last years of his illness he came to the fore in the restoration effort for the old State Pier at New London, the same one we submariners knew as State Pier. Through Hal’s efforts, and those of the entire community which he organized and led, it has not only been refurbished in condition and appearance, it has also been given a new life, serving the Port of New London/Groton and the entire Thames Valley as a newly viable port of entry for the peaceful commerce on which our nation was founded. In recognition of his contribution, State Pier has been renamed. It is now officially the Harold E. Shear Marine Terminal, known informally by the residents of the area as Shear Pier. For a man who spent his boyhood at the tip of Long Island, who grew up in Shelter Island, on the sea, fishing the local waters and then becoming one of our premier naval officers. nothing could be more appropriate. It is a lasting. and beautiful, contribution to the welfare of the entire area in which, man and boy, he has spent so much of his life.
This is most fitting to the man. for the times, these days, are parlous. We have impeached a President. Many of our citizens. many of those present, fear we may have reached a nadir of the political life of our country. Deep in the souls of most Americans, I am positive lies a wonder at how we could have descended so low, and we cry loudly that we must rise above this. If we do not, if this is not a nadir but instead a new and lower norm, the nation of which we have been so proud cannot long survive. Yet, we have had people among us, and will continue to have them, who have both the strength of mind and the strength of character to rescue us from the abyss. Hal Shear was such a man. So were those named in passing above and so was George C. Marshall, and millions of others. We have them . We have them still; but we must bring them forward. Can we here imagine how any of these would have handled the Presidency had he been in that office? Can anyone doubt that Hal Shear would have enriched it? Can anyone even conceive of him, or any of them, besmirching it? Even the nobility of Hal’s past several years, his triumph over the vicissitudes of the body that finally brought him low-as they must, eventually, for all of us-show us that here was the type of man, or woman, for that matter, whom we must continue to find for the high offices of the land.
We here, who have come to celebrate Hal’s life, should also use this moment to rededicate ourselves privately to the improvement of our country, as he did. We should set our sights higher than they have been. We must clean up our national act. The ills we have agonized over for so long need to be measured against the example of the outstanding life just ended. We must not fail Hal, and the others like him who have marked our nation’s path. They are exemplars for all of us. We must not let them down.
Hal, old friend, it is hard to say goodbye. You have been for us the most magnificent archetype one could imagine of everything a good naval officer, citizen, and patriot should be. And you have been more than that. You have followed the footsteps of the mighty, and have at the same time blazed your own trail. Never once has smallness, meanness, or indecorousness marked your path. We stand small in your greatness. Your family will miss you. Your friends will miss you. Your thousands of admirers will be saddened. The United States of America has lost one of its true stalwarts, and our Navy is diminished. Perhaps most important of all, you have shown all of us the true path of greatness. God speed, old man, and God bless! We’ll not be long behind!