In her brother's honor
Camden — A Thomaston woman has been on a quest to get her brother's name on the Camden veterans memorial wall for several years with no luck.
Jan Dearborn said several members of her family — her great-grandfather, father and uncle — already appear on the Village Green wall, so when she initially requested her deceased brother, Stanton Dearborn, also be listed, she never thought she would run into the trouble that she has endured.
"I never in my wildest dreams thought his name would not be added," she said.
Jan said she has been passed from one person to the next like a "hot potato" and each person has a different requirement that her brother must have met in order to be included on the wall.
The Camden honor roll was a community project sponsored by library officials and the Camden Lions Club. It was formally dedicated May 28, 2007, after years of collecting names, according to The Camden Herald archives.
To qualify, a veteran must have been a resident of the town of Camden at the time they joined the armed forces and must have been in the military or Merchant Marines during wartime. They do not have to have been in combat, according to a newspaper article dated May 22, 2003.
She and her brother were both born and raised in Camden, growing up on Limerock Street. When she was just entering high school and Stanton was a senior, her mother took the two of them on a trip to New York to see family, but what Jan said she didn't know at the time was that they were not returning home to Camden. Her parents had split up.
Schools in New York were very different from Maine, with upwards of 700 students in each grade, she said. Stanton lasted about a month and a half in school there before coming back to Maine, and since he was a minor, 17 years old at the time, she believes either her father or aunt signed paperwork for him to join the military.
The entire time Jan was in high school, her brother, who was a door gunner with the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Aviation, was serving two tours in Vietnam.
Right before she went off to college in August 1968, Jan went to LaGuardia Airport and picked him up after he was discharged from the service.
"He did not have civilian clothes on him, which was a major mistake back then," she said. "We got a lot [of harassment] within the terminal, and when we stepped outside we were pelted with rotten fruit and spit on."
From there, they went back to their grandmother's New York home and a few days after that, Stanton came home to Camden.
"I went off to college, and that Christmas in '68 he shot himself and I never saw him again," Jan said.
His funeral was held at the former Laite Funeral Home and he was buried in the family plot — with military honors — in Mountain View Cemetery. The funeral was held on Christmas Eve.
When she first began to inquire about getting her brother's name on the veterans' wall, she was told she needed his DD Form 214, which are military discharge papers. She learned the papers, for whatever reason, are nowhere to be found.
She called Long Funeral Home in Camden (which was previously Laite Funeral Home), hoping they would have old records on file. It was suggested by the funeral home to have a Camden official go to the cemetery plot at Mountain View, because in order to be buried with full military honors, as Stanton was, the funeral home at the time of his death would have had to obtain a copy of the discharge papers. The government, Jan also said, only provides military markers for veterans who are honorably discharged, which is another requirement she was asked to prove and is also information found on discharge papers. She also has provided the town with her brother's birth and death certificates on more than one occasion.
"He was born in Camden, he was buried here, he died on Limerock Street," Jan said, adding he was also baptized in Camden. "What more do you want for a Camden connection?"
Jan said at one point she was told because her brother had left the state and did not enlist from Camden, he could not be included on the wall.
"Even if someone was born here and raised here and, God forbid, crossed the Maine state line and worked in Massachusetts or lived there, they would still be a town son and could be on that wall," she said. "What is it with this provincial attitude?"
Camden Select Board Chairman John French Jr. said the wall began as a project between several community groups, with the town only overseeing the funds that pay for maintenance and engraving.
French said the process does need more scrutiny because the requirements for who is entitled to be listed on the wall are not written in a formal policy. However, it has been put on hold because of the resignation of Town Manager Patricia Finnigan, but he said it will be one of the tasks when a new town manager is hired.
Jeff Sukeforth, who is the American Legion Post 30 adjutant, said last year he took it upon himself to create a draft policy, and the Legion members discussed possibly overseeing the process for getting names onto the wall. However, he also said after Finnigan left town in January the whole thing was put on the "back burner."
French said the idea is to have a three- or four-person town committee established to oversee the process. It would include a member of the Select Board, a Legion member and someone from the Lions Club who is involved in fundraising.
This past summer, Jan began more aggressively pursuing getting her brother's name on the wall. After several back-and-forth email conversations in the summer of 2016 with Sukeforth, who attempted to help her locate the discharge papers, and French, she was told by French in a September 2016 email that space would be saved on the wall for her brother.
"To me, that was a promise that they have reneged on," Jan said.
After not hearing from the town for a few months after getting that email from French, in December Jan sent an email to the entire Select Board. She then had a lengthy phone conversation with Select Board member Don White. When she sent a followup email to check on the situation, White replied, suggesting that since her brother did not enlist from Camden, she should contact the town of Hope — a community that she says she has no connection with, and neither did her brother.
French said since Stanton did not live in Camden when he enlisted, he cannot be listed on the wall. Both Sukeforth and French said Jan has been informed of this decision a number of times, but she cannot accept the answer.
"I'm the last Dearborn. I don't even know if my brother would even want to be on that damned wall, but I have my entire family on it and I want him on it," she said.
Courier Publications Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.