The Star-Herald

Help us honor local veterans

Last November, you may have noticed that the Gold Star Bridge at Park and Main was decorated with banners recognizing service members from Presque Isle who died in wars since the Korean War.  If you happened to drive across the bridge as the purple autumn twilight fell on Veterans’ Day, you may have spotted a line of white luminaries glowing on the sidewalk, one for each veteran from Presque Isle who did not return home.  

This was an initiative of the Presque Isle Downtown Revitalization Committee, a resident group that has worked on beautification and events for decades.  It was very touching to meet with the siblings of Steven Porter, who died at age 19 in Vietnam, and hear how much the Gold Star Bridge display meant to them.

Since then, we have formed a specific veterans’ subcommittee to expand this initiative to a series of colored street banners on Main Street, honoring and memorializing veterans from the SAD 1 area. Two of the committee members, Rod Cameron and John Herweh, are veterans. A third, Deborah Roark, is the wife of a Navy veteran.  The remaining member is our city’s director of economic development, Galen Weibley.

My research tells me 240,000 World War II veterans are alive today, as well as 500,000 Korean War vets and 610,000 Vietnam War veterans. More than a million service members have been engaged in the Gulf War of 1991 or the post 9-11 conflicts.  Maine is one of the states with the highest percentage of veterans as a share of its population, with a long legacy of service. Reaching back even earlier in American history, five percent of Maine’s population served in World War I, and Maine’s people were fiercely anti-slavery in the 1800s, contributing more soldiers as a proportion of its population than any other state to the Union Army in the Civil War. 

 Today, in Aroostook County, one in 10 citizens is a veteran.  

Just as with Steven Porter, behind every banner there is a personal story.  I remember sitting with my grandfather, Dana Roix, who served as a radio man in naval aviation during the Second World War, and looking at each black-and-white photo he pulled out of a manila envelope.  After his service was over, he returned to Presque Isle, where he was the oldest brother of seven, and his mother was a widow who managed by cooking at the nursing home by day and taking in sewing at night.  

When he married my grandmother, he bought a parcel of land on South Street.  With little money, he found a house that was slated to be torn down, moved it to South Street, and reconstructed it board by board.  He took the nails that had been pulled out, and hammered each straight to reuse it.  He planted roses and peonies and built a little white latticed archway. The house has since been purchased and bulldozed to make way for progress, but South Street means a lot to me and my family.  It was our beginning.

As the chair of the Downtown Revitalization Committee, I waited for every citizen to place an order, and then I placed mine.  The day the banners were hung, I drove the length of Main Street, seeing veteran after veteran I knew.  What are the odds, in the three-mile length of Main Street, that Grampy’s banner would be hung at the entry to South Street?  But there it was, and there it remains, through the Fourth of July.

If you would like to buy a banner, you can call City Hall at 760-2700 and ask for Galen Weibley, or you can go to our Square site at downtownpi.square.site/.  The $100 cost covers the cost of printing the banner at a local printer.  If you know a veteran who has limited means, we have scholarships available – please do not let that be a barrier.

For this initiative, the committee owes thanks not only to the volunteer members of our Subcommittee, but also to local businesses and the support of the Presque Isle City Council.

Christy Daggett is chairwoman of the Presque Isle Downtown Revitalization Committee.

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