Mount Katahdin and its surrounding peaks were formed hundreds of millions of years ago by the collision of glacier and rock. They are, in any relative sense, forever.
This Memorial Day weekend, a group led by Maj. David Cote hiked up one of those peaks, The Owl, two miles west of Katahdin, carrying 48 stones, each with a specific purpose.
Forty of the stones are etched with the name of a service member from Maine who gave his life in the country’s two latest wars, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. Seven others are marked with words known well to those and all other service members — courage, duty, honor, among others.
The stones are part of The Summit Project, a memorial program started by Cote, a Waterville native, and based on a Navy SEAL tradition honoring fallen comrades. Volunteers in The Summit Project carry the stones to symbolically take on some the burden felt by the service members’ families.
That burden is heavy in Maine, which has suffered the loss of 46 service members since 2001. The latest, Sgt. Corey E. Garver, who grew up in Topsham and went to Mt. Ararat High School, was killed June 23, 2013, by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
Those deaths are all fresh now. There are too many, but not so many that you can’t remember them all. Flip through their photos, and you’ll recall the faces.
Maybe they were from your hometown, or nearby. Maybe you remember the story from the news — Master Sgt. Evander Andrews, killed in accident in Qatar less than a month after the attacks of Sept. 11. Pfc. Angel Rosa, a Marine killed March 13, 2007, the first of four men from South Portland to die. Capt. John R. “Jay” Brainard III, of Newport, who died in a helicopter crash on Memorial Day, 2012.
Each loss is felt so acutely by the family, of course, but also by the community, and the state as a whole.
But with time, that feeling will fade, for all but the people closest to the fallen. It is what has happened before. There is no one left who knew someone who died in the Civil War. There are few people alive who remember World War I, and they will be gone soon.
Not long, and the same will be said about World War II, then Vietnam. Time marches on. Memory fades.
The final stone carried this weekend by The Summit Project volunteers recognizes this human weakness.
The stone is etched with the dates “July 4, 1776-Sept. 11, 2001,” to remember the sacrifice of every other Mainer who has died in defense of the United States.
That sacrifice, like a name etched in stone, like a peak in Baxter State Park, is forever.