As oppressively hot as it was during Thursday’s ceremonies commemorating the 65th anniversary of V-J Day and the end of World War II, many of the 300 or so people in attendance were affected more by emotions and memories.
“You think of all your relatives and friends who died in the war, and then you think how lucky you are to be alive,” said Nancy Ellms, 85, who served a year in the WAVES — the U.S. Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
Ellms’ husband of 63 years, Guy “Hogface” Ellms, 91, also was took part in the ceremonies at Cole Land Transportation Museum. He was one of many veterans in attendance, despite the humidity, blinding sunshine and temperatures in the mid-90s.
“I don’t think anything I’ve ever done has touched me more than today,” said Galen Cole, a World War II veteran and founder of the museum. “The fact these people, on this kind of a day, could and would turn out, is great. To think there are this many World War II veterans still willing and able to turn out is even better.
“We had about 300 people come here, and certainly over 100 of them were veterans.”
The five-hour program started with a ceremonial bell ringing, as was done at the end of World War II in 1945 and by Maine churches on Thursday.
A Maine Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter deployed twice in Iraq landed outside the museum to start things off, and a U.S. Air National Guard KC-135 tanker from Maine’s 101st Air Refueling Wing did a flyover toward the end of the ceremonies.
“I’m very appreciative to be invited to do something like this,” said the helicopter pilot, Col. David Smith of the Maine Army National Guard Support Facility. “We’ve had a lot of involvement from veterans coming out and taking part in this, and I thoroughly enjoy being able to talk to them and get to know some of them.”
Neither Smith, Chief Warrant Officer Abel Gleason of Hampden nor Staff Sgt. Richard Chasse of the 142nd Air Assault unit in Bangor treated Thursday’s assignment in the Black Hawk as a routine appearance.
“My wife’s dad, who’s dead now, used to talk about landing on Normandy,” said Chasse. “He was there. I didn’t realize its importance as much then as a younger guy as I do now.
“You volunteer for stuff you enjoy doing and believe in,” he added, referring to Thursday’s ceremonies.
Other highlights included recognition of notable World War II veterans in attendance, such as 99-year-old Carl Cuthbert of Dexter, Col. Clifford “Buzz” West of Bangor, the Ellmses, and three-time Purple Heart recipient Hershel Norwood of Southwest Harbor.
There was no shortage of stories to be told.
“One time, I went through an olive orchard and the ground was soft after a heavy rain. I drove in through and unloaded the troops,” said Guy Ellms, who served in the U.S. Army for 3½ years. “They wanted me to leave, but I told them I’d stay and slept under the truck that night. After daylight, I saw some guns popping up through the woods so I decided to leave.
“Coming back, I noticed the tracks of my wheels were still there, and in two places there were mines sticking right up, right next to the wheel tracks. We’d barely missed hitting them. The man upstairs was looking out for us that day.”
Former Army infantryman Ralph Goss of Levant, who has been a museum volunteer for all 20 years of its existence, said events like Thursday’s are particularly poignant for him.
“I think it brings to mind what it really means, especially for kids,” said Goss. “It’s a reminder to me it is really worthwhile to talk to young people about the war and our experiences because they aren’t taught it in schools anymore.”
Goss recalled how fortunate he was to make it through the war relatively unscathed.
“We fought in the Battle of the Ruhr Valley and moved down to Czechoslovakia, but we were only in combat a few months in Europe before that war ended,” Goss said. “Then we came back and went to Washington state to fight in the Pacific, but the war in Japan ended while we were on the way. We were scheduled to invade the Japanese mainland. I still have the invasion plans at home, and our division was scheduled to come in as the second wave on one of the beaches.
“I have a lot of respect for old Harry Truman because the bomb saved millions of casualties, both ours and Japanese, if we’d invaded.”
Proclamations and statements by Gov. John Baldacci and 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud were read. Baldacci was scheduled to attend, but was absent because of a hurricane preparedness meeting in Augusta.