AUGUSTA, Maine — Families of Maine soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan took turns hanging dog tags of their loved ones on a newly unveiled memorial during an emotional ceremony Thursday.
The somber observance took place after Gov. John Baldacci and the adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, Maj. Gen. John Libby, unveiled the Battlefield Cross Memorial. It is a bronze, life-size representation of a rifle pointing downward into the ground, capped by a helmet with boots at the side.
Memorials symbolized by the statue become places where surviving members of a fallen soldier’s squad gather to remember their fallen comrade.
Baldacci told the family members seated in the State House Hall of Flags, “Our Maine National Guard have always been our heroes.” Before being called to fight in the current war, they were called upon to help the state recover from the devastating ice storm of a decade ago, he said.
“This is a very solemn day to remember our lost heroes,” said Baldacci, referring to the Sept. 11 date marking the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001. “Today we honor eight Maine National Guardsmen who lost their lives in the global war on terrorism.”
“We can never say enough about these Maine men. Their loss is deep and has impacted all of our community that is Maine,” Baldacci said.
Libby told the families there was little he could say to help the healing process, but said, “I hope you can take some closure and comfort” from the day’s observance.
“They are gone, they are not forgotten,” said the state National Guard chief.
The soldiers from Maine or with ties to the state who lost their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan include Sgt. Christopher Gelineau; Staff Sgt. Lynn Poulin Sr., Sgt. Thomas J. Dostie, and 1st Sgt. Michael Jones, all of the 133rd Engineer Battalion.
Also honored were Staff Sgt. Dale Kelly and Staff Sgt. David Veverka, both of 3-172nd Mountain Infantry Battalion; Capt. Patrick Damon, 240th Engineer Group, and Sgt. Richard Parker, 1-152nd Field Artillery Battalion. All except for Damon, who was serving in Afghanistan, were part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Maine National Guard Battlefield Cross Memorial is to be placed permanently in the public entrance to the Maine National Guard Headquarters at Camp Keyes in Augusta.
During the ceremony, a Maine Army National Guard soldier in formal uniform escorted relatives of each of the fallen soldiers to the memorial. The survivor then placed a dog tag on the rifle portion of the memorial. A framed sketch of each of the soldiers formed a backdrop to the memorial.
Funds for the memorial were raised privately by the Augusta Emblem Club, which supports veterans’ and patriotic causes around Maine.