Students from the Vinalhaven School recently participated in our Ambassadors of Freedom program at the Cole Land Transportation Museum. Seven veterans were interviewed by the students. They were Marty Bell, Chuck McClead, Carl Carlstad, George Lindeman, Nolan Gibbs, Norman Rossignol and Paul Wilbur.
In the 18 years of this program bringing school classes to the museum, this visit was certainly a special day in my life.
All veterans who interview students, you are part of the program that now has been presented to more than 20,000 Maine students from Berwick to Fort Kent and points in between, students from more than 250 schools.
In the past 20 years, several wonderful experiences have taken place for me at the Cole Land Transportation Museum.
There have been hugs and tears shed by dozens of veterans after receiving and-or carrying their donated walking stick, the only thing they ever received free recognizing their service. There has been the camaraderie developed with other veterans when marching in the parades and holding their stick high as they pass the reviewing stand, plus the thousand or more letters received by individual veterans from students after their museum tour and interview with a veteran.
But earlier this month, the ultimate experience for me took place when the seven veterans and I participated with the high school students from Vinalhaven and their instructor, Jud Raven.
It was necessary for them to ride the 7 a.m. ferry to catch a bus and reach us for a 10:30 a.m. museum tour and interviews with veterans.
As usual, after their hour-long visit with their veteran, I explained what an honor it was to have them meet our veterans and learn details about the huge price veterans have paid to keep America free.
My first question was, “Will any of you remember this hour you have had with your veteran for as long as you live?”
Vinalhaven was no exception when all students and teachers raised their hands. I smiled and asked, “Does this happen often at Vinalhaven School?”
One student stated, “This is the first time in my school experience that it’s happened to me.” Others nodded in agreement.
Next I asked, “How many of you have living today relatives that have served in the U.S. military?” Every hand again went up. My next question was, “How many of you have interviewed your living relatives as you did today with these strangers?” For, I think, the first time ever, not a single hand was raised.
My next point was, “All of the veterans have given our time and traveled at our own expense to help you today and we have only one request. From what you told us you have learned today, please take the time to talk to your military relatives about their experiences while serving our country.
“You have an opportunity to learn from them far more than we could provide as total strangers. Further, it will be an experience you can pass on in years to come to your children and grandchildren.
“Time is short for these old vets — your interview with them will bring a smile to their face and in their heart, and if our involvement today has opened that door for you, we have been repaid a thousand times over.”
My last question was, “How many of you will accept our challenge to interview your relatives before this year is out?” Every hand, including the teacher’s, was raised. I then asked that they stand and join me in giving a hand to you veterans for your time and service.
Yes, for this old World War II, Purple Heart combat veteran, it was our museum’s crowning achievement of success — unanimous positive response by the entire class.
To the veterans: Your continued participation in our Veteran Interview Program is something I hope and pray you will continue and be part of for as long as you live. Who knows, a few of you may live to see still another school respond with total positive answers again in your lifetime.
Thanks to each of you for your service.
Galen L. Cole is the founder of Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor.