JAY, Maine — Schoolchildren lined the banking along Route 4 near the middle school holding signs as they waited for the motorcade bringing Army policewoman Sgt. Helaina Lake home Tuesday.
Lake, 24, formerly of Livermore Falls, was severely injured on June 20 in a suicide-bombing in Afghanistan. Among her injuries was a shattered right leg. She has spent months in and out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. She was flown from there to the Portland International Jetport for her trip home.
People holding flags and red, white and blue balloons started lining the Livermore Falls Memorial Bridge well before the motorcade came through Auburn. If they didn’t have a flag, they were given one.
Fire trucks from four towns raised their ladders to create an arch with a flag flown between them. One was at the bridge, the other at Chisholm Square in Jay.
“I think it is wonderful,” Pat Knowlton of Livermore Falls said as she distributed flags at the bridge. “We’re proud of her, and we thank her for everything she has done,” she said.
It is a super, super day, veteran Bert Simoneau of Livermore Falls said.
“What a welcome home,” he said.
The Spruce Mountain High School band waited at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Jay to play the Livermore Falls High School song and the national anthem.
Krista Allen of Livermore Falls said she came out to see her best friend come home. The two went to school together.
When the motorcade arrived with police, firefighters, ambulances, Patriot Guard Riders and others, a cheer went up from the children on the banking and people applauded. Horns blew and motorcycle engines revved as the convoy drove up Community Way and back around by the Jay Elementary School before arriving at the hall.
When the limousine pulled in, Helaina Lake and her son, Aden, 2, were looking out the window at the crowd.
The band began to play as her uncle Maurice Castonguay and her brother Charles helped her out of the car. A wheelchair was brought over to her to sit in and elevate her leg. Livermore Falls Fire Chief Gerry Pineau pushed her up the ramp into the hall.
Lake was formerly a Livermore Falls firefighter.
She settled in at the end of a long table as people formed a line to greet her.
Some presented gifts, including flowers and a red, white and blue quilt with flags pieced together around the edges. Others wiped tears from their eyes.
Helaina Lake said softly she was glad to be back home.
“It’s been a day,” Lake’s sister, Kathrynn said. “It’s been a very good day.”
Her father, Bernal Lake, held his grandson.
It was an “awesome, awesome, awesome” feeling to hug her for the first time in 18 months, he said.
It’s the best Thanksgiving in a long time, Bernal Lake said. Just as each one was special when he and his wife, Jeannine, adopted each of their three children.
Legislators and congressmen or their representatives each thanked Helaina Lake for her service.
Maurice Castonguay of Livermore Falls thanked all who helped make the homecoming special and all those who serve the country so bravely.
“Six months ago today, Helaina was wounded half a world away,” Castonguay said.
During his speech, he read the names of three soldiers who were killed that day in Helaina’s unit; five others with her also were severely wounded.
Helaina started crying, and her sister wrapped her arms around her.
The first days were difficult because they didn’t know if Helaina would make it, Castonguay said.
“She survived,” he said, although there have been times of great suffering, he said.
“Helaina is not only my niece. She is my godchild. I made a promise I would watch over her,” Castonguay said. “We’ve got her home.”