Ralph Bonville has carried an American Flag in Falmouth’s Memorial Day Parade for over 70 years. Contributed / Dan Bonville

FALMOUTH — A local veteran who’s been placing American flags on veterans’ graves for almost 75 years celebrated a milestone of his own as he celebrated his 102nd birthday last month.

Among his many accomplishments while living in Falmouth for 70 years, Ralph Bonville was named Falmouth’s 2018 Citizen of the Year and he co-founded the local American Legion Post. He’s also worked tirelessly to recognize other veterans.

Bonville was born Jan. 8, 1919, and grew up in Presque Isle, where he met his future wife, Eileen. During the Great Depression, he volunteered for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program.

After they moved down to southern Maine, Bonville worked at the South Portland Shipyard before being drafted during World War II. He served in the Pacific Theater in Tokyo from 1945-46.

“The biggest challenge during the war was being away from home,” Bonville recalled. “You just got through day by day until you got home.”   

Bonville and his wife moved to Falmouth after he returned from the war and he continued serving his community by co-founding Falmouth American Legion Post #164.

Bonville said when the Post started in 1947 – the same year he began honoring his fellow veterans’ graves – it attracted about 120 members. Today there’s about half that number on the rolls.

Bonville served in the Pacific Theater in Tokyo Japan from 1945-1946. Contributed / Dan Bonville

Caleb Hemphill, then-Town Council chairperson, said Bonville would go to the local cemeteries before and after work to make sure all the veterans’ graves were decorated with an American flag.

“Starting with 150 graves, Ralph has kept detailed records of the names and burial locations for 1,500 veterans buried in Falmouth and made it his personal mission that none should be left out,” Hemphill said.

When asked how serving his country had influenced Bonville’s values, his son Dan Bonville replied, “The value of democracy is the biggest thing. All my life, ever since I was a little kid, he’s been putting flags over at the cemeteries.” 

Reflecting on the citizen’s award, Bonville said he was “completely surprised” by the recognition. When asked about his long-standing tradition of distributing American flags, Bonville said this is the first year he’s been unable to fulfill his mission due to COVID-19. However, he did what he could last spring, driving through the cemeteries and locating 62 graves that the Falmouth Lions Club had missed when distributing flags.

Bonville has been living in the same house since 1949, in the place he and his wife of 67 years raised three children. He said his son and daughter-in-law visit frequently and he has more grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-children than he can keep track of.

When he and his wife first moved to Falmouth, Bonville said he enjoyed feeling like he was in the country despite being 60 feet from the Portland town line. 

“There were farms up and down the road with no houses in between,” Bonville said. “We had a lot of trees and wildlife.” 

To this day, Bonville’s love for the outdoors remains instilled in his family.

“I started out when the kids were young to see if they’d like to go camping and they took to it like ducks to water,” Bonville said. “They’re all avid campers when they can go.” 

Recalling the days where oxen and horses were the main means of transportation, Bonville said his favorite invention was the automobile, “because it’s the one thing that’s stuck around all these years.” He added, “Certainly wasn’t the computer. Got no use for it.”

When asked his advice for a long and healthy life, Bonville said, “I’ve always told people to just keep thinking good thoughts.”

“I think fondly of most every day,” he said. “When I get up in the morning, I’m humming away and I don’t worry about how many more days, but when they’re done I’m done, and other than that it’s another day to live and enjoy.” 

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