Winter weather settled into Aroostook County a little over a month before the official beginning of the season this year, but the chilly temperatures and snow-covered ground did not deter a large crowd from gathering at the Northern Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Caribou on Nov. 11 in honor of Veterans Day.
The event began with a posting of colors by the Loring Job Corps, Caribou Fire & Ambulance and Young Marines honor guard units. Members of the groups stood practically motionless, remaining at attention throughout the entire 45-minute ceremony.
This was the 12th annual service conducted at the cemetery, marking the anniversary of the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour in 1918 when the First World War ended. In those 96 years, Nov. 11 has been set aside as a day to remember all veterans, living and dead.
Emcee Richard Brown began the ceremony by introducing Jamie Deschesne of Caribou, who performed the National Anthem. Deschesne was followed by Pastor Ellen Cleaves of Limestone, who gave the ceremony’s invocation.
Harry Hafford, chairman of the NMVMC Organization, then welcomed the guests. He listed a variety of projects that had been completed at the cemetery over the past year, including flowers and trees that were planted, new sidewalks around the Walls of Honor and a new asphalt binder put in place at the upper half of the road around the viewing area. Hafford also made mention that the cemetery’s former committal shelter, which had been replaced last year, was undergoing reconstruction to be used as a storage building for the cemetery and should be completed by the beginning of the year.
Phil Bosse of Susan Collins’ office then addressed the audience, reading a message from the newly re-elected U.S. senator.
“The Americans we honor on Veterans Day served our nation and all mankind,” Bosse read. “They humbled tyrants, defended the innocent and freed the oppressed. Those who serve today — the veterans of tomorrow — carry on this great mission. They, like those who came before, have earned out deepest thanks, not just on Veterans Day, but for all the days to come.”
Bosse was followed by Sharon Campbell, representing U.S. Senator Angus King.
“In Maine, over 10 percent of our citizens have served in the armed forces, one of the highest percentages in the country,” Campbell shared from a statement from King. “This fact should instill tremendous pride and a sense of responsibility in every one of us.”
Barbara Hayslett, a representative of U.S. Congressman Michael Michaud, was the next speaker, also reading from a prepared statement.
“Your dedication to country is an inspiration,” Hayslett read on behalf of Michaud, “and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not in awe of your service.”
All three members of the delegation also addressed issues such as health care, rehabilitation services, education and employment opportunities, each expressing that work still needs to be done in these areas in order to provide proper treatment of our country’s veterans.
The keynote speaker for the event was Brigadier General Gerard F. Bolduc, commander and Adjutant General of the Maine National Air Guard. He said how impressed he was with the cemetery and added he planned to come back in the summertime with his motorcycle.
The brigadier general then spoke of a seminar he attended in Germany to discuss world affairs where he had the opportunity to meet with an Afghani government official, who expressed his gratefulness to Bolduc for the effort the United States military has put into helping that country.
Bolduc then shared some of his thoughts on Vietnam-era veterans.
“You fought in a very unpopular war and returned home to bitterness and resentment for doing the mission you were called upon to do by the nation,” Bolduc stated. “You Vietnam vets did nothing wrong. You served with dignity, honor, and conducted yourselves professionally.”
After apologizing to Vietnam veterans for the terrible treatment they received upon returning home, Bolduc made mention of the large group of greeters who have been gathering at the Bangor airport whenever servicemen are returning home and passing through Maine. Bolduc pointed out that a large number of these greeters who are providing the service members with such a warm welcome home are Vietnam veterans who have made it their mission to ensure no other members of the military step back on U.S. soil without being assured their service is admired and appreciated.
“So for all the Vietnam vets, thank you for your service, thank you for your dignified patriotism, and thank you for the support of all of us who currently wear a uniform,” Bolduc stated as he concluded his address.
Deschesne then returned to the podium to perform “God Bless the USA” and Bolduc and Hafford took part in a wreath-laying ceremony to honor deceased veterans, which also included a 21-gun salute conducted by the Legion Riders of Madawaska American Legion Post 147 and a performance of “Taps” by David Bell.
The ceremony ended with Cleaves providing a benediction and Brown and Hafford thanking everyone for attending.