BANGOR — Fifteen years after Galen Cole got the idea to give out walking sticks to encourage World War II veterans to march in patriotic parades, the program has expanded and is going strong.
The 100 servicemen and women from the 101st Air Refueling Wing who received walking sticks on June 1 are a good deal younger than the World War Two-ers who were the only recipients in 1999, but they seemed no less proud. And each one received a personal challenge from Cole Land Transportation Museum founder Cole, 88, himself a Purple Heart veteran of WWII.
“I challenge you to join us — on the Fourth of July or Veterans Day or next Memorial Day,” Cole said while looking each Maine Air National Guard member in the eye, “and march with your group, and you’ll feel proud all over again,” he promised.
As each recipient stepped forward, a fellow member read that person’s name along with the location where he or she had been deployed — not just Iraq and Afghanistan, Qatar and Kuwait, but Spain and Germany and Guam among them.
Next was a handshake with Brig. Gen. James Campbell, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, and greetings from other dignitaries.
Cole received a plaque from the Maine Air National Guard during the event, a Distinguished Service Award in appreciation for “outstanding support to Maine veterans.”
Cole Museum began distributing walking sticks to Maine veterans and current personnel serving in the Global War on Terror in 2009, the fourth war era so honored after WWII, Korean War veterans and Vietnam War veterans — the latter the largest group of war veterans to receive the walking sticks so far. A total of approximately 9,000 Maine veterans and service personnel have received the maple walking sticks.
The museum continues to give walking sticks to Maine veterans of the four war eras who come to the museum with their discharge papers or other form of military ID 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Nov. 11. Those who did not serve during a war era or who live outside Maine may purchase a walking stick directly from Peavey Manufacturing in Eddington.
Cole also used Sunday’s event to encourage veterans to share their military experiences with Maine youngsters through the Veterans Interview Program at the museum each spring and fall.
Although many older veterans take part, Cole pointed out that younger veterans are appreciated and needed, using as an example Maine Guardsman Josh Gray, who attended Sunday’s event with his wife and three young children.
Music for the June 1 event was provided by the Old Town High School Band, which played the popular military melody that welcomes veterans from the branches of the service to stand while their song is played.
For information on activities at the Cole Land Transportation Museum, call 990-3600, ext. 13 or visit colemuseum.org. Veterans who participate in the Fourth of July Parade in Brewer and Bangor will receive a 2014 sticker for their walking sticks.