MILO, Maine — Ron Knowles’ eyes clouded over this week as the Milo man recalled what it’s like to stand on foreign soil as a young man in uniform serving his country.
While Knowles is thankful that he and other family members were lucky to have returned home to their loved ones, he’ll never forget the servicemen and women who died as a sacrifice for freedom or those who were captured and may still be alive but as prisoners of war.
“Those soldiers, sailors and airmen who died or are missing in action in defense of our freedom just means that much to me and they need to be remembered, as do all the service members in wartime or in peace,” Knowles said this week.
To that end, Knowles has poured his heart and time into the development and construction of a war memorial in his community representing every military branch. He has received help from local and regional merchants, the town of Milo, the local Legion Auxiliary, jamboree supporters and people such as Milo residents Donna DeWitt and Margaret Earley.
Knowles, who sponsors monthly country jamborees in his community for charitable purposes, decided to use the proceeds from the events in the past few years for the monument that will be constructed in the cemetery.
To date, Knowles and other supporters have raised $20,000 of the $30,000 needed. In addition, about 125 granite stones that will be installed around the walkway of the monument have been purchased by individuals in memory or honor of loved ones who were in the service. Each stone will be engraved with the names of serv-icemen and women along with other information. Knowles said he hopes to have 300 of the stones ordered by the time the construction begins later this month. Some additional work, including groundwork, will be done next spring or summer.
The monument will consist of five separate granite monuments, one for each military branch, on a 12-inch-thick granite base. Each monument will have the branch insignias, the year each branch was established, and stanzas from their associated anthems. In addition, those monuments will encircle a monument for the killed, missing in action and prisoners of war. A walkway will connect the new monuments to the two existing monuments at the cemetery.
The project also will include two soldiers kneeling in prayer, whose profiles will be seen coming and going from the cemetery. An American flag will be displayed over each.
Knowles said he thought it would take some time to raise the funds, but he has been surprised at how quickly the funds have accumulated. Two former servicemen with ties to Milo each donated $1,000, he said.
What especially touched Knowles was a purchase of granite markers by Philip Paul of Millinocket in recognition of the time his father and his eight brothers served in the military, and also the time a small girl emptied her pocketbook of pennies into a donation jar.
Equally touching was a call for a granite marker in memory of Ralph York of Milo, Knowles said. York moved with his mother to Rockwood as a child, and when he became an adult he went to California. There he joined the Royal Air Force as a pilot but was killed when his plane was shot down over Scotland. York is buried in a small churchyard in Scotland, he said.
“To have his stone in this memorial means he’s come full circle,” Knowles said.
The well-worn phrase “freedom is not free,” is documented in every cemetery throughout the United States, according to Knowles. And he wants no one to forget those sacrifices.