James Fant Berry died shortly after suffering a stroke at his home in Raleigh, NC, and the world lost another hero. Upon graduation from USMA in 1940, Jim entered the Army Air Corps and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his Service as a B-17 Squadron Commander, 91st Bomber Group, Eighth Air Force in WWII. Postwar assignments included the Strategic Air Command and advanced training at Columbia University and the Canadian National Defense College. He was commander of the Pacific Security Service at Wheeler AFB from 1962-64, and commander of the Air Force Logistics Command at Wright-Patterson AFB from 1964-68. A veteran of three wars, he retired from the Air Force in 1968.
Settling in Raleigh, NC, he completed his graduate studies in mathematics at North Carolina University and founded several small businesses. During this period his interest in the environment and its protection continued to grow. He was a leader as a war hero, and now he became a leader as an environmentalist.
He founded the Center for Reflection on the Second Law, an international organization concerned with protection and reverence for the earth. The Center became well known among environmental activists around the world, both for its annual conferences and its monthly newsletter. As a writer, lecturer, and activist, Jim Berry fostered awareness of the inseparability of the natural world, humankind, and divinity.
At Jim’s funeral, his son Michael read from a letter his father had sent to his grandchildren: "Humans belong to the earth and to earth’s life system, are part of it and have the clear obligation to honor the earth and to behave in such a way as to demonstrate that honor. You are urged to love your country, but your love of the land, of the trees and the animals, and the life-giving photosynthetic process is about a million times more important than nationalistic love of a political and economic and social entity doing a whole lot of bad things."
He would stand up in meetings with his booming baritone voice and announce, "I speak for the earth!" His goodness and integrity insisted that we hear him. He lived an exemplary life of conscience. He was fearless in bringing his beliefs in to uncomfortable situations, regularly participating in peace demonstrations at Seymour Johnson AFB.
His compassion for the environment extended to his compassion for others. He was concerned both with the way we mine our natural resources and the way we cherish our human resources. He regularly welcomed to his home men fresh from prison. As one who knew him well remarked, "You knew he was for real. He really had soul about it all." The Vatican named him a Knight of Malta for his tireless work as a Catholic layman.
Jim’s wife of more than fifty years, Mary Elizabeth Looram Berry died in their home 25 Jan 1998 after a brief illness. They are survived by their children: Mary Elizabeth, Ann Raphael, James Michael, Gabriel Marie, and seven grandchildren.
- Class of 1940