BRUNSWICK — The first marker in Maine dedicated to the families of U.S. military members killed in battle was installed Saturday at P-3 Park at Brunswick Landing.

The Gold Star Families Memorial Marker, a simple gold-lettered sign on a 7-foot-high pole, and a surrounding bed of flowers were the gifts of the Harpswell Garden Club, which raised $2,300 for the project. The marker was installed next door to the Brunswick Naval Air Station Museum.

About 100 people attended the ceremony. The Harpswell Concert Band played while taking shelter from the rain under the wings of one of the giant P-3 Orion airplanes that once flew out of the former naval air station. Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marines provided a color guard.

“Maine’s Gold Star families have sacrificed so much for our nation, and deserve our complete and eternal support,” U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said at the event.

King, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is a co-sponsor of the Gold Star Families Support and Installation Act, a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would increase support for Gold Star families by creating a standardized policy to allow families to more easily access military facilities and certain military benefits.

King read a letter written by President Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, the mother of five young men killed in battle during the Civil War, as two of Maine’s gold star families looked on.

“I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save,” Lincoln wrote.

“I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.”

The installation was part of the Gold Star Families Memorial Marker Project sponsored by National Garden Clubs Inc. and the nonprofit group Gold Star Families. The gold star marker project, started in 2015, is similar to the Blue Star Memorial Program, which was started by National Garden Clubs after World War II with the aim of installing blue star markers along the country’s highways, parks and historical grounds in honor of those who served in the military.

Suzanne Bushnell, the Harpswell Garden Club’s project chairman, noted there are 29 other gold star family markers around the country. Massachusetts is the only other New England state to have one.

The use of blue and gold stars by military families started during World War I, when families with a member in the military hung service flags on their homes. Blue stars on the flags represented family members fighting in the military. The blue star would be replaced with a gold star if the family member died.

Elisa Civello, president of the Harpswell Garden Club, the state’s largest with 150 members, said the gold star marker was part of a 50-year collaboration between her garden club and the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, now called Brunswick Landing, where the garden club maintains the Memorial and Friendship Gardens. She said the gold star marker would honor the state’s gold star families.

“This is an important reminder we live in a free country because of the sacrifices they made,” said Civello.

The installation was one of four events taking place this weekend to honor gold star families in Maine.

“We are lucky in Maine. We have a lot of organizations honoring gold star families,” said Michelle Ouellette, coordinator of the U.S. Army’s Maine Survivors Outreach Services program.

Cindy and Terry Small of Wiscasset, whose son, Army PFC Andrew R. Small, was killed in Afghanistan, said memorial ceremonies dredge up their grief.

“It brings everything to the front. All of these ceremonies are hard, but it is important to honor him,” Cindy Small said.

Peter Lavallee of Topsham said his late parents would have loved the Brunswick ceremony, honoring his late brother, Robert C. Lavallee, killed in Vietnam.

“It means everything to keep the memory alive. He died in 1967 and here we are in 2018. There is a long time there,” said Lavallee who was accompanied by his wife, Diane.


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