The Fort Meade community bid farewell to James Allen Speraw Jr., director of the Fort Meade Museum and a former curator at Fort Belvior, Va., in a memorial service Monday morning.
Speraw, who resided in Glen Burnie, died of a sudden heart attack on Oct. 14. He was 62.
The memorial service was held in the World War I wing of the Fort Meade Museum.
Garrison Chaplain (Col.) Terry Whiteside gave the invocation and benediction. Colleagues and family members spoke as a video of Speraw’s life played.
“Jim loved military history and he loved all of you,” Whiteside said in his opening remarks.
Speraw was instrumental in designing and creating the historical displays in the museum’s World War I wing. He also helped create the decor and historical displays in the World War I room at Fort Meade’s 100th anniversary gala on June 14 at Club Meade.
The video of Speraw included photographs of him dressed in a World War I uniform at the gala.
Among the family members who attended the service were Speraw’s sister Julie Anne Stachowiak and her husband, Joseph; his brother John Speraw; sister-in-law Anne Speraw; and nephew Matthew.
Speraw is survived by his 90-year-old mother Julia Sysko Speraw, who lives in Connecticut, and his aunt, Helen Klemchuck, 88, who lives in California.
In his remarks, Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard expressed the community’s deep sympathy.
“Jim Speraw dedicated his life to serving others and preserving our precious history,” Rickard said. “His tremendous impact on Fort George G. Meade dates back 37 years to his first assignment at the U.S. Army Center for Military History.
“His presence and tireless efforts will be sorely missed by our entire community, but his legacy will be appreciated and felt by many future generations.”
Speraw was born Sept. 28, 1955 and grew up in Waterbury, Conn. He enlisted in the Army on July 9, 1973 and was assigned to Fort Meade the following year as a SIDPERS data analyst. SIDPERS was the Army’s first personnel computer system.
Speraw began volunteering at the Fort Meade Museum in 1975.
In her remarks, a tearful Julia Ann Stachowiak said her brother’s love of the military and its history began in childhood. She said he would save money from his newspaper route to purchase military patches. He glued the patches to poster boards that included a write-up of each patch’s significance.
Eventually, Speraw earned enough money to ask his parents to buy a World War II jeep.
Stachowiak said although her parents declined, Speraw bought a jeep when he was older.
David Cole, a retired chief of collections at the U.S. Army Center for Military History and a former director of the Fort Meade Museum, said he hired Speraw as a museum technician in 1981. This began a long and rewarding career with the Army museum system for Speraw.
The two men became friends while Speraw was a volunteer. After he began working at the museum, Speraw eventually rented a basement apartment from Cole and his wife, who lived in Odenton.
Cole said the 1980s and 1990s were the “heyday” of the Fort Meade Museum, and Speraw’s “knowledge, skill and enthusiasm” contributed to the success of many of its programs at the time.
During his tenure, the museum curated an exhibit of the Yorktown Bicentennial at the Pentagon, conducted annual historical trainings for the battalions on Fort Meade, organized an annual Armed Forces Day for Fort Meade and the surrounding community, and curated an exhibit on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution in 1987.
Cole said Speraw joined him in becoming a member of Troop B, 158th Calvary (Recon) Maryland Army National Guard in 1981. Speraw eventually became a staff sergeant and cavalry scout.
Speraw volunteered for active-duty service in the Persian Gulf War and was part of the U.S. Army Special Property Recovery Team for the U.S. Army Center of Military History. He was the team’s senior noncommissioned officer and logistics specialist.
The team’s initial mission was to acquire historically significant artifacts. However, the mission expanded to involve the recovery of intelligence materiel and administration of all captured enemy materiel in theater under Article 53 of the Haig Convention.
Speraw, who helped to recover significant intelligence-related material from behind enemy lines, was awarded the Bronze Star for his contributions.
In 1991, Speraw was released from active duty and hired as a civilian museum technician for the U.S. Army Center of Military History. In 1994, he served as the DoD liaison for historic property during Operation Uphold Democracy.
During that period, Speraw was assigned to the Command Group and worked closely with Army Special Forces to recover and protect historically significant military artifacts, including items from the estate of Jean-Claude D “Papa Doc” Dulvalier, Haiti’s former dictator.
After 9/11, Speraw was assigned to a joint military (Army, Navy and Marine Corps) team to recover historically relevant materials from the Pentagon that would document the attacks.
In his remarks, Cole spoke emotionally when he shared how Speraw’s “sensitivy and compassion” during the assignment “touched many people.”
Speraw retired from the Maryland National Guard in 2002 and helped establish the Maryland National Guard Musem at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore.
A year later, he deployed as an Army curator with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) to Mosul during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Cole, who retired from the U.S. Army Center of Military History in 2005, said Speraw gladly would have taken a reduction in pay to become director of the Fort Meade Museum. And eventually he did.
Mary Staab, director of the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, said Speraw was appointed as acting director of the museum in February. Before assuming the post, Speraw spent years at the museum helping with exhibits and artifacts.
“Jim was one of those very rare people who really loved what he did in his career,” Julie Ann Stachowiak said. “Jim ate, slept and breathed the military and military history. He was passionate about what he did and he gave his all doing his job and never looked for the [fame].”
Stachowiak said her brother was “truly loved” by his familly and friends and that everyone was proud of his accomplishments. To end her remarks, she read the poem “His Journey’s Just Begun” by Ellen Brennenman.
“He was taken from us too soon,” Stachowiak said.
“Jim, we’re not going to say goodbye. We will see you again one day.”