Veterans gather to honor late Peter Miesburger
CARIBOU, Maine — Local veterans came together on Feb. 12 at the Maine Veterans Home in Caribou to honor the life of Peter Miesburger, who died at the age of 82 on Nov. 21, 2018.
A former Air Force sergeant, Miesburger was well known throughout not only The County, but the state, for the work he did for veterans over the years
He was a member of Caribou VFW Post 9389, Legion Post 15, the VFW National Home, and the Air Force Association, and he served as commander of the Department of Maine VFW for ten years, wa the National VW chief of staff from 1992 to 1999, and the post commander of the Caribou VFW for five terms. He also was a founding father of the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery and served as a member of the board of trustees for the Maine Veterans’ Home.
Roger Felix, Commander of the Lister-Knowlton Post 9389 VFW in Caribou, led the Feb. 12 ceremony in which a memorial plaque was unveiled in Miesburger’s honor. Other presenters also shared with the group a flag that had been flown across the Air Force Memorial in Washington, D.C., and a legislative sentiment written in Miesburger’s honor. The flag will now be on display at the Caribou VFW post.
“Since Pete devoted so much time to the Maine Veterans’ Home and the Caribou VA Clinic,” Felix said, “we felt he should be honored so that everyone who comes in will understand that there were people before us who made this place’s existence possible.”
Felix, and several others during the ceremony, emphasized the importance of ensuring that Miesburger’s legacy is not forgotten.
“Peter came from the tough streets of Philadelphia,” said Felix. “He was always so straightforward and to the point. He told people exactly what he thought, but he also had a large heart and a lot of empathy. He always put others before himself. Whenever I think of Peter, I think of selfless sacrifice.”
Among the guests was Miesburger’s longtime friend Jack Barisi, an Air Force veteran who purchased a home in Caribou shortly after getting out of the service.
“He bought a house in Caribou right next to mine,” said Barisi. “He had to do one more remote tour in Alaska, and when he came back, he got involved with the VFW and from then on we were on the road all the time.”
Barisi said that Miesburger always traveled with an “entourage,” and that he was among them.
“We drove to functions, council meetings, and board meetings,” said Barisi. “He’d always bring us with him. We even met Senator John McCain at one function. [Peter] saw him and said, ‘Holy cow! It’s Senator McCain!”
Back in the 1970s, Miesburger got in touch with Barisi the day before a Memorial Day parade to see if he and some of the other veterans they knew might want to get involved.
“I said, ‘Gee Pete, we gotta have a float,’” Barisi recalled, “and he said, ‘Yeah, let’s make a float.’ Even though it was less than day away he said, ‘We can do it,’ and jumped to it while saying he works good under pressure.”
In less than a day, Barisi said Miesburger found a pickup truck, a trailer, picked up some artificial grass at the local funeral home, and then found a sign and some chairs.
“And we had a float for the parade,” said Barisi. “Pete was just one of those guys who was going steady all the time.”
At one point, Miesburger asked Barisi to be his chief of staff back when he was the Maine VFW Department Commander, an offer that Barisi said he turned down.
“That was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life,” said Barisi. “I think of that every day.”
Chaplain Craig Fay, who led a prayer to open the Feb. 12 ceremony, also shared a few words about Miesburger.
“I could never keep up with him,” said Fay. “I tried, but Pete Miesburger was one of a kind, a true vet that cared, loved his community, and wanted the very best for every veteran that came into his sight.”
Felix also spoke about the most recent Veterans Day ceremony at the Caribou Maine Veterans’ Home before Miesburger passed away. Miesburger had previously handled the ceremony, but asked Felix to lead the event this last time.
“I caught on quick that he was setting me up to take his place,” said Felix. “He would bring this ceremony to a small group of veterans who didn’t have the ability to leave this facility.”
Melissa Graham, administrator of the Maine Veterans Home in Caribou, spoke about Miesburger’s impact on the facility before she read a letter from Maine Veterans’ Home CEO Kelley Kash, a retired Air Force colonel.
“I definitely agree with Roger,” said Graham, “that Pete might have been setting him up. And how blessed are we to now have him as part of our ceremony.”
Graham said that when she was first hired in 2010, she was notified that two board members in Caribou had wanted to meet her before she officially began the job.
“I thought, ‘This is going to be interesting,’” she said. “I met Ray Guerrette and Pete and never really looked back. They really were like family to all of us at the Maine Veterans’ Home.”
Kash’s letter, which was addressed to Peter’s wife Jean Miesburger, emphasized how dear he was to the entire organization and to Kash personally.
“He was a constant cheerleader,” Graham read from the letter, “and our biggest supporter. I have no doubt that he is in heaven advocating for veterans.”
State Rep. John DeVeau, R-Caribou, also presented a legislative sentiment written in Miesburger’s honor to Miesburger’s wife at the ceremony.
“I picked this up at 9:30 in the morning and drove straight here,” DeVeau said. “This was something that Senate President Troy Jackson and myself felt needed to be brought to your attention.”
DeVeau said that he and other veteran advocates will work hard to continue Miesburger’s legacy, and that he is working in the State House to ensure that County veterans are represented.
“Just know that he loved you,” DeVeau told the audience. “If there’s anything we can do for younger veterans, or any other veterans, please reach out.”
Through every speech or statement made on behalf of Miesburger, there was one common theme — that he would be impossible to replace.
“The chaplain was saying, ‘Who’s going to carry Pete’s torch?’” Felix said. “It’s going to take multiple people, because it wasn’t a torch; it was a flamethrower. He got things done, and always with a smile on his face.”