ROCKPORT— Dozens of vets — one of them 98 years old —reported for special breakfast duty on Veterans Day as students saluted men and women who served their country in war and peace.

Vets attending represented every branch of the military; some came with wives and children; one showed up with his grandson, also a veteran, and great grandchildren.

Pam Tibbetts, 74, of Camden was there for Paul, her husband, who passed away in 2008 at age 59. He was drafted as a teenager in 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War and spent 13 straight months of his two-year tour of duty patrolling the demilitarized zone in Korea while she cared for their new baby back home.

“Things were very different back then,” she recalled. “There were no phone calls.”

Pam Tibbetts Photo by Jack M Foley

It is veterans like Paul Tibbetts that Jeff Sukeforth referred to when he told the crowd of about 200 serving and seated beneath a big American flag and dozens of smaller foreign banners, “Let us now recognize every single one” of those who served in the military.

About 75 in the gathering were veterans, Sukeforth among them, who met at 7:30 a.m., Nov. 11, to share breakfast in honor of Veterans Day in the Wave Cafe at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport.

The event was re-started and hosted by the school’s chapter of the National Honor Society after a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID pandemic.

Sukeforth was glad to see the event reprised. He retired in 1993 after 20 years in military security at home and abroad with the United States Air Force. Today, there are 18.5 million veterans in the county, including nearly nine percent of Maine’s population, he told the assembly.

Jeff Sukeforth, right, addresses the Veterans Day gathering as hosts/members of the CHRHS Honor Society look on. Photo by Jack M Foley

Sukeforth, 67, is an administrator for the Camden Police Department and a member of War Memorial Post 30 of the American Legion. He thanked the school staff, students and Honor Society for “allowing us to be part of this celebration.”

He described the event as “just wonderful …especially for Vietnam Vets who did not receive the congratulations everybody else got” when they came home from war.

Jack Bradley, 94, and grandson Stanley Koboskie, 38, both veterans, came to the breakfast with Bradley’s grandchildren. Photo by Jack M Foley

It was a reference to insults hurled by some people at returning vets from that divisive war that took the lives of 58,220 American service members, including eight women who were among the 11,000 women who served in Vietnam. The war was fought from November 1955 to April 1975.

Don Hastings of South Hope was there in 1962, during a six-year tour in the USAF that ended in 1968. “We made room for all the others who came later,” he quipped. He recalled spending a lot of time atop Monkey Mountain — a communications base overlooking Danang Harbor and China Beach — monitoring and copying morse code traffic.

“It was the first place that got hit with Agent Orange,” he recalled, referring to the chemical spewed from American aircraft to kill vegetation that provided food and cover to the enemy. It was later found to cause serious — and many cases fatal — health problems for veterans.

Don Hastings, right, his sister Helen Ware, center, and friend Thomas Smith enjoy the Veteran’s Day breakfast at CHRHS. Photo by Jack M Foley

Hastings could not say enough about what the students’ breakfast means to him. “Oh God, I appreciate it so much. I was one of the many who did not get a lot of welcome homes; this just means a lot to me.”

Frank Solari, 82, of Cushing served in Vietnam in 1962-63, as a H-19 helicopter crew chief and machine gunner. Based in Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City, he flew on transport missions taking South Vietnamese soldiers into combat.

Solari said it was good to be around the “bunch of people,” who came to honor veterans. He was accompanied by his wife, Susan. Asked if she is a vet, he replied, “She’s put up with me for 45 years. I guess that qualifies her.”

Midcoaster Eric Crabtree, 46, served from 2008 to 2019 and is a U.S. Army Afghanistan War veteran. He spent a year in Afghanistan, where he was part of a convoy security team. The 20-year war officially ended last year after taking the lives of between 2,300 and 2,500 American military personnel, depending on the source consulted.

Crabtree’s unit was assigned to the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, he said. They suffered a combined total of more than 19,500 killed or wounded, according to online sources.

Of the student’s efforts to honor his service and that of others, he said, “I appreciate it, now especially in the climate” of the country these days.

Thomas Molloy, 80, served on the Rockland City Council for 18 years, eight as mayor. But he was at the high school breakfast because he spent 16 months during 1956 and 1957 in Korea.

Douglas Teel, left, Thomas Molloy, center, and Wayne Keiderling, all USAF vets, share memories and a meal at Veterans Day celebration.  Photo by Jack M Foley

His service came shortly after the Korean War of 1950-53 killed more than 36,500 American soldiers and left that country tense and divided ever since between communist North Korea and democratic South Korea.

Molloy is a regular, he said, at such veterans functions. He called it “a pretty nice way for people to recognize” those who have served in the military.

The World War II era was represented by, among others, Alton Lawrence Pease, 98, of North Hope, and Alan Thomas, 94, of Camden. Both served in the U.S. Navy.

“I’d get seasick so bad they used to put me ashore,” said Pease, who recently became a widower after 70 years of marriage. He recalled one of his worst experiences was the 17-day crossing of the Atlantic to get to Mediterranean Sea. He served in Italy and North Africa.

Alton Lawrence Pease, 98, served in the Navy in North Africa and Italy. Photo by Jack M Foley

For his part, Thomas served on the USS Little Rock, a Cleveland-class light cruiser, and on a “tin can,” Navy-speak for a destroyer, in his case the USS Shannon. He was a Petty Officer 3rd class in a gunnery team. “I enlisted the day before my 18th birthday and left the day after I turned 19,” he said. Then, as a pipe welder after the war, he spent 26 years helping to build nuclear power plants, he said. Of his military service he called it, “Something to be proud of.”

At one point during the celebration, Sukeforth asked if there were any women vets in the audience. Not a hand went up. Suddenly, a vet stood and said, “We have one, over here.” He pointed to Jean Burleson seated at a table nearby.

Burleson, 66, of Camden, attended with her husband, Steve, 70. Both retired from the USAF as Lt. Colonels, although she quipped that because she was in the service longer, she has seniority. They both were in communications, electronics and computers and managed to spend their whole careers assigned together through multiple stateside postings that included Boston, Seattle and Colorado Springs, among others.

She served for 42 years, including at the first headquarters of the Air Force Space Command in Colorado, which is now the U.S. Space Force.

Sukeforth took the opportunity to give an assignment to every male veteran in the hall. Next year, he said, invite a woman veteran to attend.

In addition to plenty of hot breakfast food, orange juice and coffee, vets and their families were treated to the singing of the National Anthem by the high school choir. It brought everyone to their feet facing the flag hung from the ceiling over the middle of the sprawling Wave Cafe. Some placed their right hands to their hearts, other stood saluting the flag they served in uniform. Many stared up at the flag during the entire song.

Mervyn Mank holds his hand to his heart during the National Anthem. He was graduated from Appleton High School in 1954 and joined the Navy in 1955. He served on the USS Enterprise as an Aviation Ordnanceman. He retired in 1973 with the rank of E-7 Chief Petty Officer. Photo by Jack M Foley

Later, the choir sang the song of each branch of the service, as members of those branches stood and listened.

Sukeforth also presented plaques of appreciation to the staff of the Wave Cafe and the Honor Society.

The society’s two teacher advisors, Melissa Howard and Craig Ouellette, estimated a total of 200 people, including students and staff, attended the breakfast honoring American military veterans on Veterans Day 2022.

Honor Society advisors Craig Ouellette and Melissa Howard helped make the event a big success. Photo by Jack M Foley

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