'A fitting tribute to the cherished principles ...'
Rockland — More than 200 attended the dedication Friday, Aug. 3 of the Midcoast Area Veterans Memorial at the Winslow-Holbrook-Merritt American Legion Post on upper Limerock Street.
Helped by breezes that kept flags unfurled, the group responsible for the concrete Wall of Tiles, dedicated to all veterans, celebrated the occasion with speeches, flag raisings and authentic historic uniforms.
The wall is the result of the efforts of a committee of eight, led by U.S. Navy veteran Michael McNeil of Rockland. It took 16 years to accomplish.
"This memorial has been years in the making through the hard work and dedication of many folks and organization," said former Rockland Mayor Deborah McNeil, wife of Mike McNeil. "This will be a wonderful dedication honoring the hundreds of men and women from the Midcoast and beyond, who over the decades served to give us our freedom."
After the invocation given by Lieutenant Commander Michael Griggs, chaplain for Coast Guard Sector Northern New England, three World War II planes from the Texas Flying Legends Museum flew from east to west over the site in a tribute.
The American Legion Color Guard raised a replica of a Civil War flag in the very spot where one was raised May 8, 1861, when the site was a gathering place known as Camp Knox, where the recruits of the 4th Maine Regiment of Volunteer Army left for the Civil War.
Civil War historian David Sulin of Rockport, dressed in an authentic private's uniform worn by Union soldiers in 1861, led with a speech of his own and acted as a master of ceremonies of all speakers, including First Lady Ann LePage, who came to pay tribute to Maine's veterans.
"On June 17, 1861, the unit broke camp and marched down the hill through Rockland, bound for the steamer Daniel Webster to go to New York and southern ports," Sulin said.
"The men of Knox found themselves continually thrown into the breach," he said of the many casualties. "The remnant that returned four years later consisted of 13 officers and 132 enlisted men of the original 936 who boarded the Daniel Webster," he said. In addition, another 1,525 men enrolled in the unit during the war.
Gunnery Sgt. Charles Johnson of the U.S. Marine Corps told a compelling story of the men caught in the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean conflict in the early 1950s.
"We were surrounded by 200,000 Chinese troops to 12,000 Marines from the U. S. -- that just about made it even," Johnson said. "The courage of these young men was magnificent," he said. "Of those, 400 were killed, 2,265 were wounded, 90 were missing in action, and 1,395 suffered from frostbite in the minus 25-degree temperature."
U.S.C.G. Capt. Christopher Roberge paid tribute to the many Vietnam veterans whose efforts occurred "at a time when our Armed Forces were not honored in America."
Vietnam veterans were asked to stand, and they did.
Brian Whitney, a member of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe's staff, called the wall "a fitting tribute to the cherished principles" of Maine's veterans and predicted that new tiles would be added twice a year as a reminder of "service above self."
Attending the ceremony was John Brainard, father of U.S. Army Capt. John Brainard III of Newport, who was killed in Afghanistan in May when his helicopter crashed. Capt. Brainard's tile will be added to the wall.
The wall honors those who served in the U.S. Merchant Marines, Air Force, Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, and POW-MIA.