Nothing quite focuses the mind on the purpose of Memorial Day — our national day of remembrance commemorating the service and sacrifices of the men and women of America’s armed forces — as a visit to a veterans’ cemetery.
Anyone who can stand on such hallowed ground, surrounded by the ghosts of wars past and present, and not be affected by the experience is a hard case indeed.
As workers and veterans groups from Arundel to Allagash spiffed up main streets and cemetery grounds in advance of the holiday, I visited the Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery at Caribou, where Memorial Day ceremonies will begin at 1 p.m. Monday.
Not far from downtown Caribou, situated on 33 acres of rolling Aroostook County countryside— land donated by John and Joyce Noble — the tranquil rural cemetery is a fitting final resting place for the many sons and daughters of this big-sky north country who have served their country well.
Remembrance Park is a small section of the cemetery dedicated to veterans of all wars, from all branches of military service, who remain missing in action. “They deserve our everlasting gratitude,’’ reads a plaque on a monument at the site. The park honors “our fallen heroes whose bodies have never been found … May they rest in peace.’’
Listed are the names of 52 MIA veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Fifty-two names, 52 heart-rending stories — if only we could hear them all — of Mainers who gave their lives in defending everything for which America stands, never to receive proper burial with full military honors.
A familiar name on the list is that of Air Force Maj. Charles J. Loring of Portland, a Korean War recipient of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration for valor above and beyond the call of duty. On Nov. 22, 1952, the man for whom the former Loring Air Force Base at Limestone was named was leading an attack against enemy gun emplacements near Sniper Ridge in North Korea when his plane was repeatedly hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire. Instead of withdrawing from the fray, he deliberately crashed his F-80 into the gun emplacements, destroying them.
His Medal of Honor citation reads, in part: “While leading a flight of four F-80 type aircraft on a close-support mission, Maj. Loring was briefed by a controller to dive-bomb enemy gun positions which were harassing friendly ground troops. After verifying the location of the target, Maj. Loring rolled into his dive-bomb run. Throughout the run, extremely accurate ground fire was directed on his aircraft.
“Disregarding the accuracy and intensity of the ground fire, Maj. Loring aggressively continued to press the attack until his aircraft was hit. At approximately 4,000 feet, he deliberately altered his course and aimed his diving aircraft at active gun emplacements concentrated on a ridge northwest of the briefed target, turned his aircraft 45 degrees to the left, pulled up in a deliberate, controlled maneuver, and elected to sacrifice his life by diving his aircraft directly into the midst of the enemy emplacements.
“His selfless and heroic action completely destroyed the enemy gun emplacement and eliminated a dangerous threat to United Nations ground forces. Maj. Loring’s noble spirit, superlative courage and conspicuous self-sacrifice in inflicting maximum damage on the enemy exemplified valor of the highest degree, and his actions were in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Air Force.’’
It was his 51st mission in Korea. He was 34 years old when he died.
Here in Maine, where the name of one of our own graced a prime military installation for 40 years until the Strategic Air Command base closed in 1994, the story of Maj. Loring’s Korean War heroics is well known. But many people may not remember that as a young fighter pilot, then-Lt. Loring had also flown 55 combat missions over Europe during World War II — a record that ended when his P-47 was shot down over Belgium on Christmas Eve 1944 and he was captured by German forces. He remained a prisoner of war until his release at war’s end in May 1945.
Performing “above and beyond’’ in service to his country was a concept to which Maj. Loring and so many others whom a grateful nation honors this weekend paid far more than lip service.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.