BANGOR, Maine — No parade was scheduled for Jan. 28. In winter, no students came in to interview veterans about their military service.
But several veterans in the Ambassadors of Freedom program at Cole Land Transportation Museum were on hand to recognize a one-of-a-kind gift — a stained-glass window of a United States flag — to thank the museum and its veteran volunteers for sharing from their hearts.
Each year, five buses make the trip from South Paris to bring 250 Oxford Hills Middle School eighth-graders — the largest single class of the year — to the museum.
It’s the only field trip each year for these students. The youngsters don’t forget the tour of the museum — or the veterans who take time to be interviewed.
Museum founder Galen Cole, himself a World War II veteran — told those assembled Friday that the stunning flag in red, white and blue was a “permanent appreciation” for what they and their fellow volunteers do for youngsters.
The idea for the mosaic window, constructed within an actual six-pane window, came from the Art Club, said principal Troy Eastman.
Seventh- and eighth-graders designed and made the window, Lang said, which the art teacher grouted.
After presenting the window, Lang made her way to each veteran to shake his hand and thank him for his service and for participating in the interview program. Teachers Tara Pelletier and Carlene Treadwell also participate in the annual school trip.
Students from visiting schools typically write a thank-you letter to their veteran after the interview.
Vietnam veteran Ed Parent’s interviewers often mention his ever-present hat, studded with pins representing patriotism and military service.
“I like your bling,” wrote Taylor Phillips. Parent keeps his letters close, displaying them in the box where he keeps them together.
Once a year, he takes his current collection of student letters to Washington to the Vietnam Memorial “to honor those who died” in service.
Kaydie-lin Larson decorated her letter to Vietnam veteran Carl Carlstad with parts of a military uniform in miniature, each crafted from camouflage cloth.
“I am glad that you shared your story with me, because I know it can be hard for some veterans to talk about it,” she wrote.
At the end of each class visit, Galen Cole asks the students to pledge to ask a veteran in their lives about his or her military service.
Many of them do just that, according to Austin Black’s letter to Gordon Warner, who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm.
“I talked to my grandfather about how it was in Vietnam and he told me a lot of stuff, too,” Black wrote. “I read books and did some research and found out that the war is brutal.”
Korean War veteran Al Gibson said he appreciates the letters that show the youngsters received the message of patriotism. But the letters also showed they were touched to hear him talk about meeting children.
Savannah Black wrote to Gibson, “I think that I learned that some orphans didn’t even have parents that could hold them at night and make them food. They sometimes depended on the troops for that kind of stuff.”
Faith Rideout wrote Gibson, “From this experience, my way of thinking has changed. You helped me change. Your generosity has made me want to be generous, your love for your country also made me love our country more, and the veterans who serve for it. Mr. Gibson, thanks for the interview, but most of all, Mr. Gibson, thank you for serving our country.”
The youngsters learned from Ray Parsons about World War II, and from John Moore about the Vietnam War.
Chuck McClead’s 20-year career took in both the Vietnam War and the Cold War.
Being interviewed by the youngsters “is a really positive experience for me,” said McClead, who is a leader in the Ambassadors of Patriotism program. “I have a lot of PTSD, and talking to these kids has really been therapy.
McClead added that he was “just glad to share the idea that war is bad — but you’ve got to protect the country.”
Cole Land Transportation Museum is looking for military veterans to volunteer for the interview program, and for general volunteers to give tours and perform other duties at the museum on Perry Road. For information, call 990-3600.