AUGUSTA, Maine — Cindy Small dug through a tangle of military dog tags from dead servicemen and women, looking for her son’s.
It wasn’t an easy search. Chained to the state’s Battlefield Cross Memorial in the State House are the identification tags of 54 Mainers who have died in the war on terrorism. The first killed among that group was Cmdr. Robert S. Schlegel of Gray, who died when jets slammed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The most recent was Aaron Henderson of Houlton, who died Oct. 2, 2012, in Afghanistan.
“I’m getting pretty good at this,” she quipped, a smile breaking through what had been an intermittent stream of tears. She finally pulled two dog tags free.
“Here he is,” she said, holding them up.
Four more dog tags were hung on the memorial Friday during a ceremony at the State House commemorating the four Mainers who have died abroad since the Sept. 11 attacks. They belonged to Tyler Springmann of Hartland, who died on July 17, 2011, in Afghanistan; John Brainard III of Dover-Foxcroft, who died on May 28, 2012, in Afghanistan; Jessica Wing of Glenburn, who died on Aug. 27, 2012, in Kuwait; and Aaron Henderson of Houlton, who died on Oct. 2, 2012, in Afghanistan.
Brig. Gen. James Campbell, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, honored the fallen.
“In one respect we’re paying tribute to those who have gone before us,” said Campbell. “But we’re also celebrating who they were and what they did for us, and celebrating that cause for which they served and sacrificed.”
The Battlefield Cross, which consists of an upright rifle with a helmet on top and boots at the bottom, is an image that dates to the Civil War. Campbell said soldiers in the heat of battle bury their comrades in shallow graves and mark them with the Battlefield Cross to this day so they can be retrieved later.
Col. Andrew Gibson of Pittsfield, the Maine National Guard’s chaplain, brought a somber tone to the gathering in the State House’s Hall of Flags, which included numerous family members of deceased servicemen and women. But Gibson addressed his words to God.
“We ask that we would have an image of them standing by you and that your loving arms even now are wrapped around them,” said Gibson. “We ask that even as we acknowledge them here by adding their names to our honored dead, that you would ensure us that they are looking down upon us.”
Gov. Paul LePage and first lady Ann LePage were among the guests.
“To the families of the fallen, we thank you for the sacrifices of your loved ones and for the freedom we all share here in Maine and in our country,” said the governor, who then read a proclamation naming Monday, which is Memorial Day, Gold Star Family Day in honor of the families of fallen soldiers. “Your sacrifice touches all of us deeply, and Maine citizens are with you in your loss.”
Cindy Small said her son Andrew would have appreciated the ceremony but might have been uncomfortable being one of its honorees. Andrew Small, who was 19 at the time, was one of three soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division who were killed when their patrol came under attack. He won the Silver Star posthumously for fighting off the enemy so that other soldiers could take cover. He left behind three brothers.
“We’re very proud of him. It will be seven years this August that we lost him,” said Cindy Small. “We usually try to go to everything they do to honor our son. We’re very happy when people remember him, so it’s special.”