U.S. veterans from all branches of the military, from different war theaters and several generations, joined family, friends and members of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled Veterans and POW organizations at the Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery in Caribou on Memorial Day to honor and remember those service men and women who have fallen before them.
With each ceremony held throughout the year at the Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery, the number of those attending continues to increase, today being no exception, as the 1 p.m. event drew an estimated 200 people, ranging from infants and toddlers in strollers to veterans confined to wheelchairs, but still drawing from their inner strength to stand in salute as the U.S. colors were presented and taps was played.
“Memorial Day to me is no longer hot dogs and hamburgers, it’s not just a day off,” said keynote speaker Brigadier Gen. John Levasseur, U.S. Army, Ret., who retired in 2011 after serving more than 39 years. “My opinion of this day changed while I was serving in Iraq in 2004. I was attending a ceremony for a young first lieutenant who had been killed by a roadside bomb,” said Levasseur.
“I was sitting in the front row and I looked at all of the things on display, honoring this soldier — the symbols of service. The bayonet between his empty boots, his helmet with his dog tags next to it — his picture. But what really stayed with me was the dates of his life.”
Levasseur reminded those in attendance that the Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery was a place where rank holds no authority for those resting there. Those interred here as well as elsewhere are all part of a brotherhood whose first rule is to “cover one another’s back,” said Levasseur.
“The number of those who serve in the armed forces may be less now than in the past but it is an important reminder to all that those here at this facility set the standards — this is where the price of freedom can be seen.”
During the ceremony, representatives gave remarks on behalf of Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Olympia Snowe and Congressman Mike Michaud.
The Loring Job Corps Color Guard presented the U.S. Colors, under the direction of Maj. Roger Felix. Also present were members of the Madawaska American Legion Post 147, who presented a 21-gun salute.
The Color Guard representing the Caribou Fire/Ambulance Department also was present.
After the ceremony, veterans exchanged handshakes and hugs with their comrades, some strangers but only in name, as they have seen the same sights, heard the same words of loss and share the same memories of those of a veteran.