HOLDEN – Though Memorial Day offers opportunities to honor the nation’s war dead and veterans, during wartime the holiday takes on an added significance. That certainly appeared to be the case Monday in Greater Bangor.
As rain began to fall Monday on those gathered at Holden School for the long-awaited unveiling of the town’s first veterans monument, one of the men who was helping with the preparations said something that so struck chaplain Charles Hurst of the Marine Corps League that he decided to share it.
Hurst said that as a wreath was being placed in front of the monument just before the start of the ceremony, he asked God to hold off on the rain but was told, “Now that we’ve put that wreath up there, it’s going to rain because that’s the tears of God for those who are still in harm’s way.”
The remark brought tears to the eyes of many of the estimated 500 people who came to the school for their first glimpse of the town’s new memorial, a community effort led by Kids of Liberty, a group of eighth-graders from nearby Holbrook Middle School.
The students were inspired to establish the memorial after interviewing veterans on Sept. 11 at the Cole Land Transportation Museum. The memorial pays tribute to veterans from Holden, Eddington and Clifton.
In Holden, the sacrifices of war are fresh. The community lost one of its own last month.
Army Sgt. Nicholas Robertson, 27, who grew up in Holden, died April 3, one day after he was wounded in Afghanistan. He was an Airborne Ranger who was on his second deployment when he was shot during a combat mission in the Zahn Khan District.
Despite the rain and chilly breeze, virtually everyone who attended the monument unveiling in Holden – the equivalent of one-sixth of the town’s population – stayed for the entire hour-long program.
The Holden ceremony topped off a Memorial Day lineup that began with the annual parade in Bangor and patriotic program at the Cole museum, also in Bangor.
Around 1,000 people lined the streets of downtown Bangor for the parade, according to a Bangor Police Department estimate.
American Legion Post 12 member Rob Stevens of Bangor was among the veterans who marched in Monday’s parade. A former military policeman who served in the U.S. Army from 1959 though 1962, Stevens said it was difficult for him to articulate what he was feeling on Memorial Day.
“It’s hard to say. It’s something you feel here,” Stevens said, placing his hand on his heart. “It’s hard to understand unless you were there.”
Rep. Charles “Dusty” Fisher of Brewer, who served with the Army in Pittsburgh, Pa., during the Vietnam War, was among those pleased to see the recent spike in the number of fellow Vietnam veterans taking part in Memorial Day observances.
Fisher attributed the spike to the heartfelt welcome home that troops from the wars in Afghanistan and, more recently, Iraq have received. He also credited the Maine-made maple walking sticks the Cole Land Transportation Museum has been giving out to veterans of World War II, the Korean War and as of last year, the Vietnam War.
“It’s a great thing to see,” he said. “It’s very touching.”
Museum founder Galen Cole, a veteran of World War II, said an estimated 600 people visited the Perry Road facility Monday to take part in activities acknowledging the sacrifices of U.S. troops and their loved ones.
Cole said he was delighted by an unexpected appearance from Gov. John Baldacci, who also marched in Monday’s parade and who immediately afterward took part in ceremonies at Davenport Park, home of the Battleship Maine monument.
“This Memorial Day, we remember all those in the armed forces, National Guard and Reserves who gave their lives for the protection of our freedoms and liberty,” Baldacci said Monday. “They served their country bravely. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten.”
At the Cole museum, the governor recognized more than 40 veterans from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars by awarding them State of Maine Silver Star and Honorable Service Medals and Wartime Service Certificates.
“Maine is thankful to our heroes past and present,” he said. “Time and time again, our soldiers have answered the call and stood ready to support the defense of our families, communities and country.”