It is a State Funeral with processions, speeches, dignitaries, a military band, and pallbearers representing the Army, Navy, and National Guard. Flowers, wreaths, and flags adorn the coffins. Crowds line the roadways and hillsides in awed silence. Sorrow, honors, and respect of every kind deluge the deceased.
August 27, 1999, Ilguva, Lithuania -- We are now at the re-burial site after three full masses, the last one lead by the Bishop of Lithuania in the archaic little yellow church here where my parents were married in 1936. At the graveside the speeches continue. The speaker of Parliament spoke, the present Minister of Justice spoke, a member of Parliament spoke, mayors spoke, military dignitaries spoke, family members spoke.
My son, Aras, is to speak, too, as a representative of his generation in the United States. Informed at the last minute, he wrote a few sentences in a tiny tablet, in a tiny script while on the Navy riverboat Verkne, (Weeping One), during the two hour trip from Kaunas to Ilguva. His speech is short and powerful. He read it in English.
am one of many great-grandchildren of Stasys and Emilija Silingas.
I do not understand the full significance of Silingas to
Lithuania, but I know that I speak for all of us when I say that I am
ever grateful to the nation and the people of Lithuania for fulfilling
my great-grandfatherís burial wish with such dignity and grace.
at the carnage now of the most tragic battle of Silingasí life -- that
which resulted in the dispersion of his family, the imprisonment of
himself, the occupation of his country, and the death of his wife and
child, -- it is easy to lose sight of where the real war has gone:
It is important for me to remember, however, that this is just one man within the eternal struggle for human independence and freedom from oppression; and Silingas is just one man in a long line of heroes: those who fought before him, those who fought beside him, those who fought after him, those who are fighting today, and those who will have the courage to pick up the sword, the pen, and raise their voices for freedom tomorrow.
today there are such heroes, and from what I now know about these
people, I now know that nothing is more assured, nothing is more certain
than that the struggle will continue, the fight will go on, and the
legacy of Silingas will live on.
Only a few people understand the speech because it is in English, but I am proud that it is. For me, it symbolizes a connection between the history of Silingas in Lithuania and his inevitable and necessary influence on another continent, another country -- America.
But now I face a new phenomenon: Now my children are intensely interested in their heritage and Lithuanian culture. Now they ask, "Why didnít you teach us to speak Lithuanian?" Now they say, "We want to know all there is to know about Silingas." Now they offer, "We want to help keep his legacy alive in any way we can."
And it's happening. Aras' baby daughter is named Emilija. I speak Lithuanian around her and my other grandchildren as much as I can. I play taped Lithuania folk music for them.
My daughter, Gaja, traveled to Lithuania in July to study Lithuanian Language and Culture at Vilnius University (one of the oldest in the world). She came back inspired speaking "truputi" (a little bit) Lithuanian, bringing documents about Silingas from the Archives in Vilnius.
All this is good. It is the beginning of our effort to preserve and honor Silingasí legacy. Meanwhile, I have many leads to follow.
I must translate his many detailed letters written during captivity and after, his speeches which hold wisdom for the world to know, his official documents, his poetry, his translations.
I must seek information we donít yet have -- why was he so quickly whisked out of Lithuania and exiled again to the Ukraine in 1954 after only three weeks in Lietuva? Surely the KGB has files on him. Stanford Universityís Hoover Institution has acquired the most complete collection of KGB files which they are now documenting and preserving, having rescued them from annihilation in the post-Soviet, chaotic Kremlin. I must contact them for more information on Silingasí years in exile.
I read about Elie Wiesel, about his suffering and his efforts to inform and inspire, about the scholarships and competitions that are held in his name, and I think, "Stasy Silingas is of that rank."
I think of all who have suffered and perished under Communism, and I think that they must not be forgotten, rather that their loss and endurance inspire those of us who have the privilege of freedom and life.
Nobel prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn predicts in The Gulag Archipelago, "For every nation exiled, an epic will someday be written on its separation from its native land and its destruction in Siberia. Only the nations themselves can voice their feelings about all they have lived through: we have no words to speak for them...."
But we mourn
for them, and we remember them.