BANGOR, Maine — While they had every reason to seek recognition and appreciation for their own military service, the 20 or so World War II veterans attending Monday afternoon’s dedication ceremony for Bangor’s World War II memorial did so to recognize and thank others instead.
In particular, they — as well as the nearly 70 other veterans of Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and more recent military campaigns — came to the Cole Land Transportation Museum to honor the 112 veterans from the Bangor area who died in World War II.
“It was out of respect for those people who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Shaun Dowd, a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander who also was attached to the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. “It’s an honor for me to pay tribute to those people by being here. It’s an honor to have served in the Navy.”
Despite having to use a crutch following recent hip replacement surgery that made it impossible for him to march for the 16th time in Monday’s Veterans Day parade in Bangor, Dowd remained at silent attention as each of the 112 names on the 8-by-5-foot granite and sandstone monument was read aloud during the closing portion of the 75-minute ceremony.
He did so to show his respect and admiration for those men who made the ultimate sacrifice, and for others who served in and survived World War II, such as Sylvanus Tracy Jr. of Hermon.
Tracy, who was born and raised in Hancock, was 18 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army back in 1943.
“My parents said, ‘Go for it,’ and signed my papers. I spent six weeks in Fort Bragg, N.C., and then went overseas,” said Tracy, an Army private first class who served from 1943 to 1946. “The Battle of the Bulge was my first action. We come up through Belgium, France, Germany and into Berlin. All the people I think I served with or know of are gone now.”
The 86-year-old Tracy, who carried the World War II banner during the parade, hasn’t participated in a lot of Veterans Day parades and events, but felt obligated to do so Monday.
“This is my third march in the parade carrying the World War II flag. This is something I appreciate, seeing all those people come out to wave at us and clap,” he said. “I’d like to see more people get involved with these things, especially the younger kids. They need to know more about our history.”
Even 66 years later, Tracy’s World War II experience isn’t easy for him to talk about.
“I still don’t like to get into it. I don’t talk about it much,” he said.
That’s one of the few things the Ellsworth High School graduate finds difficult to do.
Tracy and his wife of 18 months, Virginia, go out dancing three or four nights a week and he still plays golf a few times a week. Even a car crash that sent both of them to the hospital on Oct. 11 failed to keep them away from Monday’s ceremonies.
The dedication was the culmination of a 52-year goal for museum founder Galen Cole.
“About 1960 is when the Bangor Public Library announced they had about 100 names of Bangor World War II veterans which they were allocating one page apiece for in a book,” he said. “I knew there were more and felt that was not enough of an honor for them.”
Cole said the wheels for what proved to be a $17,000-plus project began rolling slowly forward 20 years ago, when he read a 1945 Bangor city report promising to build a World War II memorial to Bangor’s fallen veterans.
“Then last summer, I decided it was going to happen and Mayor Cary Weston grabbed onto it,” Cole explained. “Now we’re in striking distance of the general public fully sponsoring and paying for this memorial.”
Monday’s clear skies, bright sunshine and temperatures in the high 60s made for a perfect day for Cole, who said the great weather helped prompt the largest-ever turnout of veterans for a Bangor parade.
“This is by far the largest number of veterans on Veterans Day, which is typically cold or rainy, but this is also as many veterans as we’ve had for any of the parades, even Memorial Day,” Cole said. “We had something on the order of 800 and they were principally Vietnam veterans.”
Cole said the Vietnam veterans chose to march 15- and 18-people wide to cover all of Main Street.
The crowds lining streets in Brewer and Bangor for the annual parade were also larger than the norm.
“There were several thousand people, especially so in Brewer at the starting portion,” Cole said. “There normally wouldn’t be over a thousand people, but there were several thousand out today to see the parade.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect caption. Joe Leveille of Orono, not Lavalle of Old Town, greeted and thanked veterans for their service as they crossed the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge.