SKOWHEGAN — Ambrose “Tom” McCarthy Jr. served in Germany with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and remembers soldiers of the era being greeted with disrespect upon their return home. McCarthy said he wanted to do something in his hometown to bring dignity back to the veterans who put their lives on the line protecting their country.

Ten years ago, McCarthy, now 73, headed up a committee to honor those veterans and all the other men and women who served in the U.S. military. The committee established the Skowhegan Veterans Park with granite slabs and marble monuments etched with the names of people — living and dead — who had served in the armed services.

The Veterans Memorial Park was installed next to the Municipal Building in front of the original monuments placed to honor veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil wars and World War I.

A central brick walkway, lined with granite benches and flat granite stones with names — including McCarthy’s — leads to new monuments dedicated to veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Another monument was added for veterans of Bosnia, the Gulf War, Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan.

On Friday, Nov. 11 — Veterans Day in America — McCarthy and others will observe the 10th anniversary of the park with a re-dedication ceremony. The event will feature invited guests, speeches and the release of balloons, each with the name of a veteran inside it.

Ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. in the downtown park, next to the Skowhegan Opera House and Municipal Building.

“We had been talking about it for years and it just didn’t happen,” McCarthy said, looking back 10 years. “I felt that, being a Vietnam veteran, the treatment was not what it should have been when they came home. As long as you wore a uniform, you were not necessarily the most popular citizen in town, so I felt I should do something.”

He said he headed up the committee in 2006 and was assisted later by Ann and Steve Spaulding, from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. Ann later took over the planning and remains in charge of the events that are scheduled.

The criterion for having a name etched onto the walls was that the person had to be from Skowhegan or must have enlisted at the recruitment office in Skowhegan.

McCarthy, who was an artillery sergeant during the Vietnam War, said fundraising for the park’s new sections began in 2003 with a goal of about $80,000 to $100,000. The final tally came in at almost $250,000, he said.

“It includes everything that you see when you walk onto the grounds,” he said. “All the granite, all the stones, all the pavers that have been dedicated to people and all the engraving on the stones for each war, the labor, the fences on the outside, the chains, the benches.”

Added to the 2006 park two years later was a marble spire with the names of war dead.

McCarthy said once local people, businesses and organizations were confident in 2006 that the project was actually happening, they “came out of the walls” to contribute to the park.

McCarthy said he spoke with Ann Spaulding, who is out of state this week on a family matter, and they decided to go ahead with a balloon release, despite recent stories in the national press, as well as advice from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, claiming the practice results in pollution and is a threat to wildlife.

“What we would like to do is that the people who will be attending bring a message in a balloon and they’ll all be released at one time to honor them,” he said. “Anybody, anywhere, we don’t care where they’re from.”

McCarthy said he understands the environmental impact issue related to releasing balloons, but this is a one-time event in 10 years and the potential harm would be minimal compared to the sacrifice of those who served in the armed services.

“I think the ceremony on Veterans Day is of the utmost importance,” he said. “The veterans and the veterans’ causes have, with all of the turmoil that’s going on in the nation — police shootings and everything else — have been on the back burner and have become less important to the general public.

“This is something we cannot forget about. There are less and less veterans today. They’re not allowed to go to the schools as they used to, with their uniforms on. You don’t say the morning prayer, you don’t salute the flag, and we’re being controlled by the minority, not the majority. There’s something wrong with that.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]