BANGOR, Maine — Exactly 114 years have passed since the battleship USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor, costing 254 sailors’ lives and touching off the Spanish-American War.
“Remember the Maine!” became a famous battle cry as the United States declared war on Spain and defeated the longtime European power, establishing itself as the world’s premiere naval presence.
And while the import of the battle cry may be lost on most U.S. students and citizens — more and more as the years pass on — it has retained its meaning for each new generation of U.S. soldiers, no matter which branch of the U.S. armed forces they serve in.
“Most Americans really don’t have the point of reference for this,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Adam Campbell, who was at Davenport Park on Wednesday to deliver a speech and take part in memorial services marking the anniversary of the 1898 loss of the Maine and three-quarters of its crew.
“Fewer than 1 percent of people in this country serve in the armed forces, so this type of event helps give them that reference and the idea that this is an important thing to remember because this is important work we do.”
Campbell, who is attached to the Navy Operational Support Center in Bangor, said historic events such as the destruction of the Maine and resulting actions resonate with him.
“Yes. I’ve been on those … watches that I mentioned in my speech,” Campbell said. “I’ve stood the watch, so I know what it’s like to be out there thinking in the back of your head that this could be the day.
“That’s part of the honor and duty entrusted to us as service members to go out and stand watch, no matter where it is.”
And you didn’t have to be a Navy sailor or veteran among the 100 people attending Wednesday’s ceremony to appreciate its significance.
“We have to go ahead and keep reminding people that the military is the backbone of the security of our country,” said retired 20-year Navy and Air Force veteran Ray Lupo, who is also a past state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Once we go ahead, lose that and become complacent, it’s going to be like what happened at Pearl Harbor. We sat back on our cans and did nothing and then all of a sudden we had to rebuild our military.”
Lupo hosted the ceremony in place of longtime master of ceremonies Paul Colburn, a Bangor native and World War II veteran.
“I talked to him this morning and he said he just wasn’t feeling well,” said Lupo. “He has a bad cold and it must be really bad for him to miss this for the first time in more than 20 years.”
Lupo stressed the importance of remembering history’s lessons.
“They’re trying to go ahead and reduce the size of the military and the number of ships, aircraft and personnel. They don’t remember history,” said Lupo. “Right now the president’s and Department of Defense’s authorization act is proposing cutting back on the military retirement system, and this is all not good. You have to keep a strong military to keep security.”
An earlier version of this story contained an error. Ray Lupo, the host of the ceremony, is a past state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, not the American Legion.