Thirty years ago, a state representative from Madison sponsored legislation bringing back to Maine the practice of ringing bells at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, marking the date and time of the signing of the armistice in 1918 that ended World War I.

Rep. Alexander “Alec” Richard, D-Madison, a decorated war veteran, introduced the bill titled “An Act to Provide for Public Bell Ringing on Veterans Day.” The legislation was enacted the following year.

“Veterans Day bell ringing was once an honored tradition that has been allowed to die out,” the legislation reads. “This bill is designed to ensure that towns and cities appropriately recognize the sacrifice of veterans.”

The bill bringing back the bells was cosponsored by state Sen. Edward Irwin of Oxford and state Rep. Eugene Paradis of Old Town.

“For years, even after World War II, the bells rang, but then it began to fade,” Richard told a reporter on Veterans Day in 1992.

But it appears the tradition of ringing the bells has faded again.

Sunday is Veterans Day, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and organizations across the nation will be honoring it by ringing bells again, according to a campaign called Bells of Peace: A National World War I Remembrance.

The Bells of Peace campaign is sponsored by The United States World War I Centennial Commission, which Congress created in 2013 to develop programs and activities to raise awareness of the events of World War I.

The United States participated in World War I from April 1917 to November 11, 1918, when the war ended with the signing of an armistice between the Allies and Germany. An estimated 116,000 Americans died in the war, with 200,000 wounded.

To commemorate the pledge of future peace, bells were rung around the world on Nov. 11, marking “Armistice Day,” a federal holiday, which was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.

Municipalities in Maine don’t carry on the practice of ringing the bells. Waterville and Skowhegan do not, and Eric Conrad of the Maine Municipal Association said the agency did not know of any Maine cities or towns participating in the Bells of Peace campaign.

Some churches continue to do so, said David O. Sivret, of Calais, chaplain for the state’s Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“In a lot of places, it’s a thing of the past, but some churches hold to it today,” Sivret said by phone Thursday. “A lot of churches have pride in their military personnel, so they still continue that practice.”

Sivret noted that some of the newer churches don’t have bells to ring.

“I think it’s an important reminder for the people in this country of what the significance is,” he said. “A lot of people probably don’t know what it’s about, but anything we can do to remind the people about service members and what they’ve done for the country and for the freedoms that we all enjoy.

“If it’s died off, it’s well worth bringing back.”

The Maine Council of Churches last year observed the practice, placing a notice on their website bulletin board encouraging participating members to continue the practice.

“Please join together and Ring for Peace for two minutes to honor and Remember all those Veterans who have served our country,” the notice reads.

An email sent to the council this week for comment was not answered immediately.

Dave Guthro, communications director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, emailed that the practice was up to the discretion of each pastor and his individual church.

Richard served 50 years in the U.S. military, retiring in 1976 from the Maine Air National Guard with the rank of colonel. He was a graduate of Madison High School and Colby College and earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Maine. Richard went on to be principal at Madison Area High School for 19 years.

The academic wing of the high school is dedicated to Richard and his wife, Shirley K. Richard, both of whom served in the Maine House of Representatives.

Richard died at the age of 71 in March 1994. Shirley was 82 when she died in September 2011.

Angie Stockwell, collection specialist at the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan and secretary to the former U.S. senator from 1983 to 1995, said library archives chronicle the work in the Maine Legislature by Alec and Shirley Richard, who she said were close friends of Smith, who died in 1995 at age 97.

“I remember the both of them very well,” Stockwell said. “Alec was a gentle man — not a gentleman, but a gentle man, I would say. He had been through a lot. He was a military war veteran and had a Purple Heart.”

Stockwell said Shirley Richard was active at the Margaret Chase Smith Library and the couple remained close friends with Smith.

“We all attended his funeral in Madison,” she said. “He died just before Sen. Smith did.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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