BELFAST, Maine — More than 40 years after its original bronze memorial plaque was stolen and four years after the restored footbridge was reopened, a crowd of about 100 — including Gov. John Baldacci — gathered Friday to officially christen it the Armistice Bridge. Also unveiled was a new plaque listing the names of the Waldo County men who died in World War I.
“It’s been a long time coming, but we’re very glad to reach this day,” said Tammy Lacher Scully of Friends of the Bridge, which worked to raise $4,000 to reproduce the plaque.
A brisk wind ruffled the red paper poppies that most in the crowd had tucked into their buttonholes. The red flower is a symbol of Armistice Day, held Nov. 11 to commemorate the end of that war on Nov. 11, 1918.
Scully said during the rededication ceremony that she had learned a dozen years ago that the then-abandoned and crumbling footbridge had been a memorial to World War I, often called “the war to end all wars.”
“My dad [a combat veteran] said that if we do send soldiers to war, we cannot honor them enough,” she said. “And above all, we must not forget.”
Although so many wars have been fought since the first Armistice Day that it seems as if peace is impossible, Scully said, the long effort to restore and rededicate the footbridge has been in some ways an act of faith.
“For me the last 12 years have been about remembering that we once believed in peace,” she said.
Col. Jack Mosher of the Maine National Guard, who originally is from Burnham in western Waldo County, said he felt a connection to those 55 World War I soldiers who never made it home.
“They are my brothers in arms,” he said and referred to their sacrificing their lives “upon the altar of freedom when they went over there.”
He said that nearly every neighborhood and village in America felt the “cold heartache of lost doughboys,” including those in Waldo County.
“Perhaps by rededicating this Armistice Bridge we can, in our own way, find optimism and faith that the world will one day find enduring peace,” Mosher said.
One of those doughboys who never returned was Daniel G. Richards of Searsmont. Richards’ niece Edna Vaughan of Stockton Springs told Scully after the ceremony that she was grateful for the efforts made by Friends of the Bridge.
“I want to thank you for this,” she said, pointing to Richards’ name on the bronze plaque. “This was my mother’s brother, and she was so sad when the old plaque was stolen.”
Baldacci said the city was sending a message across America, which still does not have a national World War I monument.
“Unfortunately, as governor, I have to make phone calls to parents who lost their children [in war],” he said. “They always say to me, ‘I hope they never forget the sacrifice that my son or daughter made.’ We’ve done our part here in Belfast, Maine.”
After the speeches, the crowd followed the governor, other speakers and a color guard most of the way across the footbridge as the river below and the bay in the distance sparkled in the sunlight. Baldacci and Scully pulled a red cloth off the bronze plaque to applause.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s super,” said Evelyn Waterman of Knox, another niece of Daniel Richards’. “It’s been a long time coming.”