Sibling of World War I soldier awaits dedication of Rockland memorial

Posted May 25, 2012, at 5:58 p.m.
Roberta Holbrook Best of Rockland holds on Friday, May 25, 2012, a framed photograph of her brother Lt. Albert Holbrook, who was killed in World War I. A memorial in honor of him and Pvt. Arthur Winslow will be dedicated at 11 a.m. Monday, May 28, in Rockland.
Roberta Holbrook Best of Rockland holds on Friday, May 25, 2012, a framed photograph of her brother Lt. Albert Holbrook, who was killed in World War I. A memorial in honor of him and Pvt. Arthur Winslow will be dedicated at 11 a.m. Monday, May 28, in Rockland. Buy Photo

ROCKLAND, Maine — Roberta Holbrook Best never met her brother Albert Holbrook, but she still sheds a tear when she talks about his death during World War I.

Ninety-four years after his death in a French hospital that was under control of the Germans, Lt. Holbrook and fellow Rockland World War I veteran Arthur Winslow will be honored with a plaque and memorial on Monday at a park named for the pair. The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m.

According to a news account of the June 1918 battle in France, Lt. Holbrook led a platoon into “murderous machine gun and artillery fire” in attempt to take out a German machine gun encampment. He was reported missing in action after the firefight.

There was no word of his whereabouts until September, when the family received a telegram from the military that the 23-year-old Rockland native had died in a German prison camp. Later information would reveal that he died in a French hospital that was under German control in Fismes, northeast of Paris.

Best was born in 1920, two years after her brother’s death. But she said that his presence remained strong in the household.

“He was handsome, bright. He went to Bowdoin College, was captain of its football team and president of his fraternity. I realized I could not live up to him,” Best said.

Her father and brother had become extremely close, she said. Albert Holbrook wrote many letters to his father, including while at Bowdoin College, saying how he did not see how he could continue in college studying economics while the country was at war.

Holbrook was born in Rockland and grew up in a house that remains at 22 Camden St. near the intersection with Cedar Street. He enlisted in June 1917 after completing his sophomore year at the Brunswick college. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in November 1917 before being shipped overseas to France.

Her father would eventually make a trip to France during the Great Depression of the 1930s to visit his son’s grave at the Oise-Aisne Cemetery, where 6,000 U.S. soldiers are buried.

The square at the intersection of Park and Main streets in Rockland was named the Winslow-Holbrook Square immediately after World War I. A marker was originally placed on the road but later moved to the square.

The Rockland City Council officially declared the square a park in 2009 but there was no memorial other than one marker on the ground.

Best has wanted a more fitting monument to the men who were the first two from Rockland to enlist in World War I and to lose their lives. Ferraiolo Construction of Rockland donated a stone and Bob Williams of Brooks Monument donated his time to prepare it for a plaque. The Best family then raised $1,000 toward the $1,900 cost of the plaque to go on the stone. The Rockland Parks Commission put up the full $1,900 in advance so the memorial could be dedicated on Memorial Day. Best’s daughter Gaye Best said the family is still seeking donations to repay the Rockland Parks Commission the full amount.

Best remains a Rockland resident who has twice escaped death in tragedies that claimed other lives.

In 1935, she was aboard the steamer Castine, which crashed into rocks off Vinalhaven during a thick fog. Four people died in that crash. She also was in Guatemala in 1976 when an earthquake struck and claimed the lives of 25,000 people.

Best plans to attend the Memorial Day dedication and say a few words. She had waited many years to have the opportunity.

“I’m so grateful for everyone who has made this possible,” Best said.

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