OAKLAND — Messalonskee Middle School honored veterans living in the Oakland area Thursday morning, with students delivering essays and giving presentations about the importance of people who have chosen to serve in the U.S. military at some point in their lives.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King made an appearance, reminding the students about the ways they can show gratitude for the sacrifices veterans have made.

King sits on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.

The annual Messalonskee Middle School assembly historically has drawn high-profile political figures from the state, with Gov. Paul LePage speaking at last year’s event.

“We have to remember every day that it was the brave people sitting right here and all across this country and throughout the state of Maine that have enabled us to remain the land of the free,” King told the large audience gathered at the Messalonske High School Performing Arts Center.

King emphasized the importance of supporting veterans’ health care needs and particularly their mental health. He said he thinks the country is “not doing as well as we should” in aiding troops who experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We have to thank them by reaching out and finding new ways to heal wounds — not only the physical wounds, but the emotional wounds that continue to follow them through life,” he said.

The senator also noted that he considers one of his “most solemn obligations” to be ensuring that soldiers are only deployed if it is vital to the country.

King cited the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as “the definition of a patriot” and suggested that students make an effort to learn about his experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and the values he embodied.

Linda Voss, who taught at Winslow Junior High School, also was recognized at Thursday’s event. Nearly 20 years ago, Voss was instrumental in establishing a relationship between local veterans and Winslow students, an effort that later spread to Messalonskee Middle School. This marked Voss’ last veterans’ assembly before she moves out of the Oakland area.

“Believe me, it was a labor of love for me all those years that my students paid tribute to you,” Voss said. “This needs to happen in every school in our state. That was my dream way back.”

Celebrations will continue this weekend as the Waterville VFW holds its annual Veterans Day parade on Sunday.

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

@megrobbins

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