BANGOR, Maine — Cristin Bower and her mother found a cool, shady spot near West Market Square on Monday morning to set up their chairs and watch the Memorial Day parade.
Before the parade began, Bower was trying to corral her three young children, all the while holding onto her new walking stick.
Bower, a 25-year-old Bangor resident, was one of dozens of younger veterans who received walking sticks for the first time in honor of their service in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and also Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.
Although she earned a walking stick as an administrative assistant in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2002 to 2006, Bower didn’t march, preferring to keep an eye on her children and watch. She carried the walking stick to honor her grandfather Ernest Thomas, a Maine native who was in the U.S. Navy during World War II and died about three years ago.
“My grandfather had a walking stick,” Bower said. “I really just did it for him.”
Hundreds watched Monday’s parade, waving flags and clapping as veterans walked the parade route in groups based on their era of service. World War II veterans came first, followed by veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars and then the war on global terrorism. Some members of the crowd shouted “thank you” to the veterans.
The veterans passed a viewing stand near Davenport Park where Gov. John Baldacci, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, Bangor City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer and others waved and cheered for the veterans and those who still serve.
Galen Cole, founder of the Cole Land Transportation Museum, which began the walking stick project 12 years ago, said later in the day that about 900 veterans walked in the parade.
Other veterans, school military groups such as Junior ROTC and military support groups, and youth Scouting groups participated in the parade, as did school bands from Bangor, Brewer and Holden.
The Bangor Band and Anah Shriners Band also participated.
Immediately after the parade, Baldacci told the crowd in Davenport Park to remember those who have died in service.
“I think by coming together, taking time out of a holiday weekend and saying we’ve got our priorities straight, and our highest priority is to be here, to remember and never forget … that means an awful lot,” said Baldacci, who laid a wreath at the USS Maine memorial with University of Maine sophomore Tara Hackett, a Junior ROTC member from Veazie who also sang the national anthem.
Sgt. 1st Class Scott Crooker of Hampden, a mechanic with 152nd Component Repair Company, displayed his new walking stick Monday after the parade was over. He was one of four veterans of recent wars to receive his walking stick earlier this month.
Crooker said marching in the parade was a great experience.
“The crowds are just amazing,” he said. “I’m really glad Cole went and got these sticks for us. It shows just a little more caring than what other troops got after coming back from being deployed.”
Cristin Bower, whose husband, Daniel, is still in the Marine Corps, said she remembers her grandfather talking to her about serving in the military, and the walking stick he had.
“The first thing I said to her when she got that stick was how proud her grandfather would be of her,” said Bower’s mother, Maired Steina of Eddington. “I know he’s looking down.”
Monday’s events continued in the afternoon at the Cole Land Transportation Museum, where U.S. Sen. Susan Collins helped present a Bronze Star Medal to World War II veteran Burt Skinner of Belfast.
Collins, who recalled attending Memorial Day parades as a child in Caribou with her father, himself a World War II veteran and Bronze Star recipient, said it’s important to be grateful for veterans’ “devotion to duty.”
“We can begin by thanking them, one veteran at a time,” she said.