SKOWHEGAN — Members of the local garden club, military service organizations and others stood Wednesday night to “continue the future” with the unveiling of a new Blue Star Memorial Highway marker honoring American service veterans at the rest area on U.S. Route 2 in Skowhegan.

“And a beautiful sight it is, too,” said Marjorie Coburn Black, president of the Bloomfield Garden Club, whose members worked with Somerset Woods Trustees to raise the money to place a new blue-star marker close to where the old one was.

The big flood of April 1987swept the original marker away, never to be seen again, Black said, adding that the original one weighed more than 200 pounds.

The blue star became a visual symbol during World War II and was seen on flags and banners in homes, churches and businesses, representing sons and daughters away at war. The program has been active ever since. The markers celebrate all the men and women who had served and were serving in the U.S. military.

Linda Redman, Blue Star Marker chairwoman of the Garden Club Federation of Maine, told the large group of attendees Wednesday at the ceremony that the marker symbolizes the sacrifices of American armed forces over the years with 7,000 Blue Star highways across the continental United States, Hawaii and Alaska. There are 27 such markers in Maine, more than any other state in New England, she said.

The original marker was placed there by the Narantsauk Garden Club of Madison on Sept. 23, 1973. The rest area is now called Kennebec Banks, owned and maintained by Somerset Woods Trustees.

Wednesday night’s dedication, unveiling and wreath laying on the banks of the Kennebec River was opened with a welcome from Debra Burnham, the club’s Blue Star Marker chairwoman.

Patriotic songs were played by members of the Skowhegan Area Middle School band, with presentations by the Sea Cadets, by local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and words from state Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, and Somerset Woods President Jack Gibson who noted the “wonderful setting” of the marker at Kennebec Banks east of downtown Skowhegan.

Madison and Skowhegan American Legion post commanders Ralph Withee and Steve Spaulding introduced a gun salute followed by the playing of “Taps” to round out the ceremony.

The marker to identify the highways paying tribute to servicemen and servicewomen was designed by the National Council of Garden Clubs. While it was originally meant to honor World War II veterans in 1951, it was expanded to include all men and women who had served, were serving or would serve in the armed forces of the United States.

The original program began when the New Jersey Council of Garden Clubs planted 8,000 dogwood trees in 1944 as a living memorial to veterans of World War II. In 1945, the National Council of State Garden Clubs adopted the program and began a Blue Star Highway system that covers thousands of miles across the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii. A large metal Blue Star Memorial Highway marker was placed at appropriate locations along the way, according to the website.

The history of Blue Star Memorial Highways in Maine, according to Maine Garden Clubs:

• 1946 — Garden Club Federation of Maine adopts program.

• 1947 — U.S. Route 1 designated as Maine’s Blue Star Memorial Highway. This covered 546 miles from Fort Kent to Kittery.

• 1957 — U.S. Route 1 and U.S. 1-A, starting at the junction of Route 1A and 1 in Stockton Springs and extending via Bangor and Brewer to the junction of Route 1A and 1 in Ellsworth, are designated as Blue Star Memorial Highways.

• 1972 — U.S. Route 2, including Skowhegan, and state Route 3, are designated Blue Star Memorial Highways. This gave Maine 952 miles of Blue Star Memorial Highway.

• 1974 — State Route 157 and U.S. Route 201, from the junction of Route 1 at Brunswick to the Canadian border near Jackman, is designated a Blue Star Memorial Highway, giving Maine a total of 1171.6 miles of designated highway.

• 1981 — The new entrance to Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta is designated a Blue Star Memorial Highway.

The Blue Star Highway Marker Program is supported by the National Garden Clubs, Inc. and the Garden Clubs Federation of Maine. The Bloomfield Garden Club is a member of both. The marker cost $1,470, shipping and handling included, Burnham said. It has gold leaf letter faces and emblem border rings, and the star is blue.

The marker is affixed to a 7-foot-tall aluminum post.

A committee of four — Davida Barter, Marjorie Coburn Black, Burnham and Jeanne Shay — met in September and sent out 16 appeal letters to civic groups for their support.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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