Alden Weigelt, 64, at the gravesite of Civil War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Frank W. Haskell, left, Wednesday at the Pine Grove Cemetery in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Alden Weigelt stood Wednesday by the vandalized gravestone at Pine Grove Cemetery in Waterville and shook his head.

The granite marker bearing the name of Civil War veteran Frank W. Haskell, who was awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor during the war, was twisted on its base and in danger of toppling over. The stone was so covered with lichen, it was difficult to read.

Weigelt, 64, of Waterville, bemoaned the fact that Haskell’s and other veterans’ graves are neglected and that many are not marked with American flags on Memorial Day.

“The government didn’t honor the veterans,” he said. “It was the veterans themselves that started Decoration Day, which turned into Memorial Day. We wouldn’t have a Memorial Day if we didn’t have Civil War veterans who decided to make sure their own dead were honored.”

Weigelt is trying to raise funds to repair and restore the stone, which he and his wife, Debora, have visited around Memorial Day for the last several years and placed a flag there. They also place flags at several other veterans’ graves.

“I’ve got a soft spot for the Civil War veterans of Maine, and I write about them in my book,” Weigelt said.

He was referring to “Silent Maine Reminders,” which he published in 2012, and which recounts his experiences growing up in Waterville, surrounded by family, friends and others who either served in the military or whose ancestors served. As a child, Weigelt heard their personal stories or those passed down through generations. Those stories carry themes about loyalty and the importance of serving others, whether through military work or personal sacrifice.

In the book, he writes about his great-grandfather, John C. Bradbury, also a Civil War veteran.

Weigelt was a Waterville police officer several years ago when he responded to Pine Grove Cemetery for a case he was working on. At the time, then-cemetery superintendent Trudy Lovely, knowing he was interested in history, asked if he knew there was a Civil War veteran buried there who had been issued the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military award for valor. She led Weigelt to Haskell’s stone, and every year since, he has placed a flag there.

But when he visited it with his wife the week of Memorial Day this year, they discovered the poor shape the stone was in. Weigelt decided to do something about it, and to try to raise awareness about Haskell and his story.

“He’s been totally forgotten,” he said.

Weigelt has been a Capitol Police officer in Augusta the last two years. Before that, he worked as an officer and then sergeant for Waterville police more than 11 years after working 10 years at the Oakland Police Department.

He told me that, in his quest to find out how he could go about getting Haskell’s cemetery stone repaired,  he called the state American Legion headquarters in Winslow.

A woman there suggested he contact Pearley Lachance of Winslow, the chaplain for Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post 5 of Waterville.

It is no surprise Weigelt would be referred to Lachance, who not only is a history buff and supports veterans, but also has launched charitable efforts — too numerous to count — over many years. One such project was raising money to clean a monument on the Winslow side of the Ticonic Bridge on the 100th anniversary of World War I, so people could read the veterans’ names.

Weigelt called Lachance, who contacted a monument business to find out what it will entail to fix Haskell’s stone and how much it will cost. They are awaiting an estimate. Together, Weigelt and Lachance hope to raise enough money for that work.

Lachance, now 85, said he was impressed with Weigelt’s efforts. After speaking with him by phone, Lachance bought Weigelt’s book and became further impressed. Lachance himself has spent the last 12 years compiling a record of thousands of central Mainers who served in World War II.

“Anything that has to do with a veteran,” Lachance said, when asked about his efforts to help Weigelt.

Lachance apologized for having to cut our phone call short, as he was on his way to Augusta to attend the funeral of Gilman Pelletier of Waterville — another veteran and longtime community volunteer. Pelletier was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, served in Vietnam and worked at the Pentagon.

“He was a gentleman’s gentleman,” Lachance said of his late friend.

The headstone of Civil War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Frank W. Haskell seen Wednesday at Pine Grove Cemetery in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Meanwhile, the story of Haskell is notable. He was born in Benton in 1843, entered the U.S. Army in Waterville and became a sergeant major in the 3rd Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for an act of heroism on June 1, 1862, at Fair Oaks, Virginia.

Haskell and fellow soldiers were in combat on that date, and he assumed command of part of his regiment when other officers had been killed or disabled. He bravely led the regiment across a stream, yelling encouragement and directing the men around him on where to attack, according to historical records. A handwritten letter from regiment member Henry Staples to then-Maine Gov. Israel Washburn, now in the possession of the Maine State Archives, recommends Haskell for the Medal of Honor.

“For his gallant and meritorious conduct on this occasion, he has won the praise and admiration of the entire regiment,” it says. “He richly deserves a commission and I take pleasure in commending him to your favorable consideration.”

Weigelt and Lachance are of like mind in noting the importance of honoring veterans and preserving the stories of their sacrifices.

Though they have never met in person, I know that when they do, they will have much to talk about.

We are fortunate to have people like Weigelt and Lachance in our community, who don’t merely talk the talk.

They are both humble men who don’t seek the spotlight, but when a need arises, they’ll put themselves out there.

“I was kind of hoping, also, to raise awareness and maybe motivate other people to pause in respect to our veterans,” Weigelt said.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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