MILBRIDGE, Maine — It’s not often that a man gets a bridge for a birthday present. Or that it is presented by the governor of the state of Maine.
But that was the occasion Wednesday morning as about three dozen dignitaries, town officials and neighbors turned out to see the former Great South Bridge over the Narraguagus River on U.S. Route 1A renamed the Harold West Bridge.
And it was aptly named, mentioned many at the event. West is a war hero, a former Milbridge selectman, an activist in the Democratic Party, and a 24-year veteran of the state Department of Transportation.
On his 85th birthday Wednesday, West was walking down to the ceremony from his home and was picked up en route by Gov. John Baldacci and given a ride to the bridge.
“Today is Harold West Day in the state of Maine,” Baldacci declared.
West wore a dark blue pin-striped suit and on his lapel was an American flag. His ball cap proudly proclaimed “Milbridge, Maine.”
The flag and cap symbolize his entire life, Baldacci said: service to community, service to state and service to country.
“Harold served in World War II under General Patton,” the governor said. “He came home, was decorated, and got very involved in his community. For Harold, his life has been about making his community and his country better.”
Friend and neighbor B.J. Seymour described West as “a really nice gentleman. The last of his kind. If he stands up at town meeting to speak, everyone is quiet and respectful. We consider him the hero of Milbridge.”
State Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Eastport, and Rep. Diane Tilton, R-Milbridge, initiated the legislation to rename the bridge.
“It says a lot about Harold West’s character that two Republicans led the charge to name the bridge for Milbridge’s Mr. Democrat,” said a statement provided by Raye, who was unable to attend because he was delayed in a New York airport.
Tilton said she hoped that every time people drive over the Harold West Bridge, they think not just of West, but of the community service of his life.
West was 18 when drafted into the U.S. Army. He was wounded and received a Purple Heart. In a special ceremony in 2006 he received the Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
He has twice been a selectman in Milbridge, serving a total of 19 years.
He started work at a car dealership in Milbridge getting paid $35 a week, he said.
“I stayed 24 years,” he added.
He then worked another 24 years for the DOT, working for five garages along U.S. Route 1.
West said he treasured his close acquaintance with Gov. Baldacci and its rewards for his beloved community: the dredging of the harbor, Jordan Pier, the town marina, and “many other small ways he has helped us over the years that you don’t even know about.”
Days like Wednesday are “few and far between,” West said after the ceremony. “You know, if you go up the river in a boat and go under the bridge, you can see all the islands and all the boats. It’s a beautiful sight.”