LINCOLN, Maine — State Rep. Jeffery Gifford, R-Lincoln, was speaking during a Veterans Day memorial Thursday in praise of the sacrifices of veterans when he noticed that of the more than 50 people in attendance, almost none were young veterans.
With battles or skirmishes being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq almost daily since 2003, and the Gulf War now about 20 years in the past, why weren’t there more young vets there?
“I honestly don’t know,” Gifford said after the memorial service. “I don’t really have that answer. Maybe it’s a thing that comes with age. Maybe it’s because we don’t really know what they have done. Maybe we need to talk to the older veterans about reaching out to the younger guys. “
Gifford and other speakers gathered at the town’s veterans memorial near Hannaford Supermarket spoke of and praised the contributions of veterans to this country’s security and welfare.
During the ceremony, Gifford spoke of how members of George Washington’s Continental Army suffered the brutal cold at Valley Forge, the site of the army’s 1777-78 winter encampment and a fairly appropriate reminder, he said, of the sacrifices veterans make given the raw winds and low-40s temperatures of the morning.
These brave men, he said, had little food, almost no winter clothing — some had no shoes — and doubted they could prevail, yet they survived disease, malnutrition and the loneliness of separation from their families and stayed with the army during its bleakest time.
The event featured members of several veterans organizations, including American Legion Post 77, VFW Post 1438 and the Marine Corps League, an honor guard, rows of flags and a dedication of a new bench built into the monument this year.
One of the younger Iraq war veterans present, 41-year-old Randy Sibley, said he counted four or five young, or Iraq war, veterans present. One reason more aren’t there, he said, is that they’re still serving overseas or elsewhere in the country.
Still other veterans are at work, spending quality time with their families or indulging in one of the region’s favorite fall pastimes — hunting, other vets said.
Veteran Robert Rhodes said that for some Iraq or Afghan war veterans, the subject of their service is still too raw to memorialize. He said he knows one younger veteran who was stationed just outside Baghdad and whose 19-year-old son was so traumatized by the stress of knowing that his father was in combat that he dropped out of college for a semester.
The 19-year-old “had some days where he would just sit there and cry,” Rhodes said.
The young man is returning to school now that his father is home, Rhodes said.
No one blamed anyone for the lack of younger veterans, particularly not the Legion or VFW, two organizations long known for their service to vets. Though they perform many civic and charitable duties, both groups are primarily social organizations, with voluntary membership and activities.
The memorial was the third in the Lincoln Lakes region this week. Earlier celebrations included a ceremony at Enfield Station School featuring several speakers, patriotic songs and dance. Marion C. Cook School in LaGrange also had a ceremony featuring veterans discussing their experiences.
Both ceremonies featured vets of all ages and, just as important, young pupils who had a chance to learn about, and appreciate, the sacrifices all veterans make, said state Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, D-Orono, who attended both events.
“Some of the veterans had just returned from the war. They clearly made the connection with the kids about how the war is touching all of our lives,” Schneider said. “There are some really nice things going on with young kids and great things organized by teachers in our district to instill in kids the appreciation they ought to have.
“I am really glad that we have people in our area who keep putting together all the memorials for vets year after year,” she said.