BANGOR, Maine — U.S. Marine Corps Maj. David Cote said he always wanted to do something to memorialize Mainers who died in combat. With Memorial Day approaching, he now has a plan.
Cote, a 1997 Bangor High School graduate, is organizing an effort to have families or representatives of fallen military personnel engrave small stones and place them on Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park. Cote said he’s focusing on memorializing those who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Red Dawn — because there are few such monuments to them.
Cote cited statistics in the Military Times reporting that 46 Maine natives have died in combat since Oct. 2001. A list compiled by the Bangor Daily News includes 59 casualties with Maine ties in that span. All are welcome to be included in his plan, he said.
But there are obstacles to overcome.
One hurdle in completing the project will be getting permission from Baxter State Park.
Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell said Monday the three trustees — Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and Maine Forest Service Director Doug Denico — would have to sign off on having the memorial on the mountain. Their next meeting is on July 19 in Augusta.
Bissell said Gov. Percival Baxter, who donated the park, had allowed memorials at the park during his lifetime, but wrote a letter in 1965 making it “fairly clear he does not want memorials erected in the park.
“Generally, if the donor had clear communication about something, [the trustees] are very careful about [not going against Baxter’s wishes],” said Bissell.
Maine’s long history of military service is what motivates him to approach the park for permission and make his plan a reality, said Cote, who was born in Waterville and moved to Bangor when he was 8 years old.
“[Mainers] have a really strong sense of service and community,” Cote said Monday. “The idea is to try to match veterans’ level of commitment and service to make sure their memory is not forgotten.”
The 2011 Military Times’ Marine of the Year said he had wanted to do something for a long time, but last year he got his focus.
“I did a hike up Mount Whitney in California [last year]. Some Navy Seals showed me a secret memorial up there where they had painted rocks [to remember fellow soldiers],” said Cote. “I thought I have to do this too.”
Cote sent out dozens of letters to family members of Maine military personnel who had died in combat.
“It’s a great project he’s putting together,” said Jeff Hutchins, father of Army Cpl. Andrew Hutchins of New Portland, who was killed on Nov. 8, 2010, while serving during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Cote said he’s asking family members to find rocks from places that were significant to the fallen soldier such as a soccer field, churchyard, schoolyard or where they hiked. Those stones would then be engraved with the soldier’s name. Cote said he’s still working out details on who would do the engraving.
Hutchins of New Portland said he knows just the place to find a stone.
“My family has a camp on Grand Lake Stream. I’ve been going down there for 30 years,” said Hutchins, 49. “We used to fish there every Memorial Day weekend. Andrew would go with us.
“We were fishing there one day and somebody had caught a salmon and put it up on the shore. An eagle came by to pick it up. I hollered to Andrew and the eagle came about 10 feet above his head,” said Hutchins. “I’m going to pick up a rock right where he was that day.”
Hutchins said eagles have come to symbolize his memories of his son.
“There was an eagle sitting at the tree right across from the cemetery when we buried him,” said Hutchins. “I went over to put my head on his stone to cry and there was one flying right over.”
Kathy McDonald, mother of Army Sgt. Edmund Wayne McDonald of Casco, who died as a result of a noncombat-related vehicle accident in Afghanistan on March 29, 2007, said she thought it was a “fantastic” idea.
“There’s a favorite place of my son’s a mile up the road from my house. It’s on top of a hill that overlooks Mount Washington and Sebago Lake,” said McDonald of Portland. “It’s a very special place to him. He’d go there just to think, play his music or just to relax.”
She said she plans to meet with Cote when he visits Maine this week.
Cote said he’s hopeful the memorial will be allowed. He’s also sensitive that some families may not want to participate.
The families or representative selected from a soldier’s hometown will take the engraved stones up the mountain and then place them together.
The project is just getting underway. Cote said he hopes to have people hike the mountain on Memorial Day next year to place the stones.
McDonald praised Cote’s project.
“The people who do all this stuff, it’s just amazing,” said McDonald. “They don’t know these people, but they want to remember them and want others to remember them. They’ll never be forgotten with people like that around. There are people who make their memories stay alive and it helps me deal with the loss of my son knowing that there are people who care.”
For more information, visit www.mainememorial.org.