After 26 years in the United States Air Force, Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Campbell was stationed in Okinawa as his retirement was upon him. He was looking for somewhere with a snow season and plenty of hiking opportunities — and he wanted to become an ROTC leader wherever he landed.
A friend from the Brewer area, retired Maj. Connie Hostch, who had been the first unit commander at Brewer High School’s Air Foprce Junior ROTC program, connected him with Brewer school superintendent Dr. Daniel Lee. Campbell was quickly named the program’s senior aerospace instructor, responsible for managing all class teaching, logistics inventory, fundraising, and after-school activities. He immediately had plans to involve his cadets in their community.
“That’s what we try to teach the cadets: You’re part of the community, and you need to give something back,” Campbell said.
He contacted the Brewer Historical Society to volunteer his cadets to care for an area, and they suggested Chamberlain Freedom Park. The city of Brewer provides the lawn-care equipment, and the cadets do the work. As a retired senior master sergeant, Campbell knows how to give orders.
“That’s right; I’ll bark ‘em out,” he said with a laugh.
But the cadets do more than work; they learn the deep meaning behind the park, which is an intricate memorial to Brewer’s connection to the Civil War. The hilltop statue is of Joshua Chamberlain as a colonel, his rank when he led the legendary defense of Little Round Top, which helped the North earn a decisive victory at Gettysburg.
Historians generally regard that action as the linchpin of the Union Army’s defense on July 2, 1863 and a major turning point in the war. From the park, visitors can see the former Bangor Theological Seminary, which Chamberlain attended.
The park is on the former site of the John Holyoke House, believed by many to have been a safe house for slaves on the Underground Railroad. In honor of this, another statue depicts a slave climbing out of the ground above an actual shaft many believe led from the house to a river tunnel.
The park’s design represents aspects of the battlefield, notably the boulder-strewn Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. The park’s boulders deliberately represent the battlefield breastworks, the boulder fortifications that gave cover to soldiers. There’s a lone white pine representing the one growing at Gettysburg, where white pines don’t normally grow. The design was impressive enough for Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Christina Moon to visit Brewer and dub the site “‘Little’ Little Round Top.”
“Once we actually brought them out here and explained that it wasn’t just a big old chunk of land with a bunch of rocks on it, they were like, ‘Wow,’” Campbell said.
The Brewer High Air Force Junior ROTC program has 65 cadets this year, but Campbell is expecting almost 100 next year due to an increase in signups.
Junior ROTC is an important factor for students considering military careers, since they learn a lot about the military: how to take orders, how to give orders, rank structure, and the feel of an organized military unit.
Most of all, they learn leadership skills. For those who go on to the military, Junior ROTC helps place them in the right branches and the right jobs, and their ROTC participation means they can earn a bump in rank and pay right out of basic training.
“What we’re trying to do at the end of the day is build good character, good citizenship, and make them a part of something, so they can say, ‘Yeah, I did ROTC; they taught me values at things like Chamberlain Park,’” said Campbell.
It’s equally important, he says, for those in ROTC to decide that it isn’t for them. Either way, they’ll have learned a lot and developed their leadership skills, which will help them no matter what they do.
“I tell the kids all about what I did, and they love it,” he said. “And I teach them that they can do the same thing or they can do anything they want. It doesn’t have to be military. They can be anything they want; just don’t ever give up.”
Campbell has been in Maine for a year and has no plans to return to his home state of Florida.
“It’s too hot down there. I love snow, water, and mountains,” he said. “I absolutely love it up here. It’s a beautiful place.”
And there’s no end to his cadets’ involvement with the park.
“We’re going to keep this as long as it’s here and as long as the ROTC cadets want to do it,” he said. “In a couple years, everyone will know ROTC at Brewer High School takes care of this.”
The next scheduled maintenance day at Chamberlain Freedom Park is June 29, in time for the Fourth of July.