Former State Rep. Leo Berman was remembered Friday as a man driven by a resolute sense of duty and servitude for his country, the state, the community and the Lord.
There were laughs and tears from the friends and former and current area dignitaries who packed Christ Church, Episcopal for the service.
Berman's family and close friends gathered for a small ceremony beforehand in the church's Memorial Garden, which featured an honor guard three volley salute and bugler playing taps. That service was ceremoniously befitting Berman, a man participants said lived life by the book, with focused commitment, duty and honor anchored by faith.
Berman died May 23 after a long battle with lymphoma. He was 79.
The Brooklyn-born Berman left for Texas at an early age, and he loved being a Texan, his brother, Stan, told the crowd at the public service.
Stan Berman said his brother, the second oldest of five siblings, was a great football and baseball player, who always was considered by their parents as the most handsome of the three brothers.
"I always admired him," Stan Berman said. "He was a man's man."
The brothers served in Vietnam, Stan as a draftee who exited the military after his two years were up. His brother, on the other hand, enlisted in the U.S. Army and graduated from officer training before entering the war. Berman served two tours of duty and earned several decorations, including a Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Meritorious Service Medal and nine Air Medals.
Stan Berman recalled being at home on military leave with his brother, who remained spic-and-span even in his leisure time.
The officer in Berman let his private first class brother know how he felt about his slipping appearance.
"He read me the riot act," he said. "I was his brother but he let me have it. I'll never forget it."
Stan said his brother rarely talked about Vietnam but shared two incidents where Berman faced death, including a heavy firefight where bullets whizzed by dangerously close. During another harrowing exchange Berman led a South Vietnamese artillery battery that was surrounded by Viet Cong. The howitzer canons were built to hit targets miles away, but Berman's were leveled and aligned in a circle to fire into encroaching enemy forces, he said.
Stan Berman said his brother paid the ultimate price for his service in Vietnam because he was affected by the defoliant Agent Orange, which contributed to his lymphoma.
"But in true fashion he never complained," his brother said. "All he ever said during his treatment was, ‘Those are the breaks.'"
Berman reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, with 22 years of service, including his tours in Vietnam and three years as a U.S. Army liaison to Congress.
Berman moved to Arlington, where he served on the city council from 1979-1985 after retiring from the military.
The Rev. David Luckenbach, of Christ Church, said Berman was a model elder in the church throughout his time in Tyler, including during his battle with cancer.
"He was obviously weak and still he reported for duty," he said.
Luckenbach said Berman chose to suffer with dignity by keeping his commitments, including his final run for re-election in 2011. Luckenbach visited Berman in the intensive care unit of a local hospital and the conversation turned to several invitations to withdraw from the race and how the cancer diagnosis might hurt his campaign once it went public.
"He said, ‘David, it's up to the voters to decide if I stay in office, but I made a commitment to run and serve my constituents. I'm not going to withdraw. That's the coward's way out,'" Luckenbach said.
Berman served as District 6 representative, which represented Tyler and portions of Smith County, from 1999 to 2012.
He was known as a conservative firebrand and was given leadership roles, including positions on the House Appropriations Committee and chairmanships on Defense Affairs and State-Federal Relations, under former House Speaker Tom Craddick.
There was an outpouring of gratitude and sympathy from former and current legislators and state leaders upon his passing.
"I was honored to serve with Leo in the Legislature and honored to call him my friend," said State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler. "He was a true public servant and always a gentleman."