AUGUSTA — Hundreds gathered Sunday at the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery on Mount Vernon Road to dedicate the Battlefield Cross Memorial Monument, the newest local tribute to those who have fought and died for the country.
Gov. Paul LePage; U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District; and military dignitaries all paid their respects to veterans at the special ceremony, noting that it was the first Veterans Day ever observed when there are no longer any living World War I veterans.
The ceremony was one of many in Maine and across the country Sunday to mark Veterans Day, which earlier had been known as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I. The armistice went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
The Battlefield Cross, which traces its roots to the Civil War, is honored in the new 10-foot-high bronze-and-granite monument featuring a pair of empty boots, a rifle pointing downward, and an empty helmet. After the unveiling, a dog tag was placed on the memorial.
“We dedicate this monument to show us and remind us that freedom is never free,” said Col. Andrew Gibson, a chaplain.
LePage called it humbling and an honor to participate in the ceremony. He referred to last week’s election as “the mean season.”
“It makes no difference whether you’re a Democrat or Republican when it comes to serving your country,” he said. “The mean season is over, and this monument today should remind us all we’re Americans.”
Michaud said while the monument will serve as a “permanent reminder of the sacrifices of veterans,” the country must make sure veterans get the health care and benefits they have earned.
“We must ensure that we honor your sacrifices with action every day,” he said. “We must never, ever forget your service and your sacrifices.”
Brig. Gen. James Campbell, Maine’s adjutant general, said although many see it as a somber occasion, Veterans Day began as a day of celebration to mark the end of World War I. He said Americans should celebrate those who have died and those who made it home.
“Let’s celebrate our countrymen and -women,” he said. “They don’t serve as victims. They aren’t people who we need to be sorry for. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Elsewhere Sunday, about 50 veterans and family members gathered outside the main hospital at the VA Heath Care Systems Maine — Togus for an 8 a.m. ceremony under gray skies and temperatures in the mid-30s. Togus Chaplain William Smith said veterans fought to preserve democracy, justice and hope.
“We honor their service,” he said. “We honor their dignity. We honor their commitment. We give thanks for their lives.”
Ryan Lilly, medical center director at the Togus facility, said it’s especially significant to observe Veterans Day at Togus, which was founded in 1866 as the first veterans hospital in the country. The mission at the hospital — “to serve veterans with honor and dignity” — hasn’t changed in 146 years, he said.
“On behalf of a grateful nation and state, today we thank you very much,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Michaud sent representatives to the ceremony to read remarks, and the Maine Military Funeral Honors Team conducted the three volleys of musketry and played taps.
Also, dozens of veterans, Boy Scouts and other supporters took part in the annual Veterans Day Road March, which this year was a tribute to soldiers in the 488th Military Police Company, of Waterville, which is deployed to Afghanistan. The participants marched 21 miles from Augusta to Winslow in the event, which is organized each year by Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty.
Jay Christiansen, 12, marched as part of Boy Scout Troop 479, of China.
“I wanted to go with all the rest of the Scouts and support all the veterans that were in the war,” he said.
Pete Currier, 24, of Farmingdale, who enlisted in the Maine Air National Guard in June 2011, marched in his uniform and carried an American flag in his backpack to pay tribute to his father, who died in 2001.
“I want to honor those past and present,” he said.
Susan Cover — 621-5643