SIDNEY — Hundreds of people gathered outside the Town Hall Monday morning to remember the war dead from this rural town and to honor a few living veterans as well.

The Memorial Day commemoration in Sidney was marked by a parade, the playing of the Messalonskee High School Concert Band, and the dedication of a memorial to veterans with a connection to Sidney.

Elsewhere throughout central Maine and the rest of the country, communities honored their war dead. The overcast, wet weather in the morning forced some changes of venue and grounded some parades, but the afternoon ceremonies, including the one marking Augusta as a “military friendly community,” went off under warmer, blue skies.

The covenant in Augusta was signed at Old Fort Western by Mayor David Rollins and by Brigadier Gen. Douglas Farnham, adjutant of the Maine National Guard, both using feathered pens.

The designation indicates that a number of local businesses and individuals have pledged to offer discounts, benefits or preferences to service members, veterans and/or families.

At the ceremony, Ross Cunningham, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who is now president of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said he decided to retire to Maine because of the way military personnel are treated in the state.

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, who lost all four limbs to an improvised explosive device in April 2012 in Afghanistan, told the attendees that Augusta is veteran friendly as well. He said Memorial Day is important to him because of one of his buddies in particular who died on his third deployment and who is a “reason I keep going.”

Earlier Monday, Mills had been at the annual Memorial Day Miles for Mills 5K, which started at Cony High School in Augusta.

In Sidney, the list of names on the commemorative bricks began with the names of Dean Bangs and Elkanah Bangs, who fought in the Revolutionary War.

“Look at the names; they’re all familiar,” said Jeff Frost, a veteran himself and one of the committee members who helped organize the effort to raise money for the memorial.

The names continue through the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Grenada.

The committee, chaired by Arlene Toulouse, raised some $25,000, and Frost and Jon Gammans and others helped ready the site and place the bricks purchased through the “Buy a Brick” program.

“It took five years from start to finish,” Toulouse said on Monday. Also serving on the committee were Roberta Drummond and Maura Gammans.

Frost, for his efforts, was the surprised recipient of the town’s 2016 Spirit of America award Monday.

He had helped organize the effort to recognize all of Sidney’s veterans and said that seeing that memorial completed was one of the goals of fellow committee member Lawrence “Larry” Tibbetts, who served in the U.S. Army from 1954 to 1956 just after the Korean War.

“We sailed for Korea, but we took a detour and we wound up in Germany,” Tibbetts said, one hand resting on a wooden cane topped with a carved eagle’s head.

While there was a memorial to the World War II veterans, “I didn’t feel that the veterans from the town had any recognition,” said Tibbetts, now 85. His name is on one of those bricks.

Tibbetts returned from the war and spent 35 years working as a lineman for Central Maine Power Co. “That’s when we climbed the poles,” he said.

Tibbetts, who grew up in Winthrop and moved to Sidney 60 years ago, is a charter member of the historical committee.

Jon Gammans already had amassed the names of the veterans, which are displayed in white ink on a black background in a large frame in the basement of the Town Hall and at the Sidney Historical Society headquarters in the Sidney Grange No. 194 building.

“This was our first collection of names,” Gammans said. “Since that time we’ve added a few.”

Outside at the memorial, Peter D. Martin, who served as a hull technician in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 1972 and in the Seabees from 1973 to 1976 pointed to his brick and those naming other Sidney families.

There were other special recognitions too. Simone Kramer and Charlene Frost presented an “Honor Quilt” to another Sidney resident, Bill Helm, a World War II veteran who spent six months as a prisoner of war in Czechoslovakia after being captured on Dec. 3, 1944, in France.

“Being a private, under the Geneva Convention, you could be made to work,” he said, recalling his time “breaking rock with no food” at the top of a mountain.

Helm, who turns 91 on June 1, said he used to keep in touch with other men who had been prisoners with him, but he’s the only one left.

“Now there’s no one to keep in contact with,” he said.

He was freed when the war ended and returned home to work for the state, retiring from the Department of Transportation’s Planning Division, where he was in charge of the traffic count.

Helm was accompanied Sunday by his granddaughter Sherryl Shively and his son Jon Helm.

One of Helm’s neighbors, Don Cole, told the crowd about Bill Helm’s experiences, which are chronicled by Helm under the title “From the Kennebec to the Elbe River” in a series of issues of the Sidney Historical Society Newsletter, ending in September 2012, and available at www.sidneyhistoricalsociety.org/newsletters.html.

But Helm wasn’t the oldest veteran seated on a white chair outside the Town Office for the dedication. That distinction went to Ronald J. Webber, 96, who wore his green Army Air Forces uniform.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

 


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