BANGOR, Maine — World War II veteran Galen Cole, who started giving out walking sticks to Maine veterans more than a decade ago, awarded the wooden keepsakes to a group of the area’s most recent war veterans Sunday.
The fact that the ceremony was scheduled on the anniversary of D-Day, the day 66 years ago when Allied troops breached the beaches of Normandy, France, to break Adolf Hitler’s oppressive grip on Europe, is a great coincidence, said Brig. Gen. Brent Boyles.
“What this is all about is recognizing all the veterans,” he said minutes before the event during which he was one of the active duty veterans given a walking stick by Cole.
Boyles, the assistant adjutant general of the Maine Army National Guard, was joined at the Cole Land Transportation Museum ceremony by state Command Sgt. Maj. Terrence Harris, who also was awarded a walking stick.
After the duo received their walking sticks, they helped Cole and veteran volunteer Gordon Warner hand out the walking sticks to nearly 50 Maine Army National Guard combat veterans who recently returned from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Bangor-area soldiers came from the 286th Combat Support and Sustainment Battalion, the 52nd Troop Command, the 521st Troop Command and 152nd Maintenance Company.
Two Bangor soldiers from the 521st Troop Command — Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Gurney and Master Sgt. Steve Craig — organized the event. Both also were awarded walking sticks Sunday.
The walking sticks are just a way for all military veterans to recognize one another easily, said Gurney.
“It’s a brotherhood,” he said. “At first I didn’t consider myself a veteran because I’m still serving. But working with the World War II and the Vietnam veterans, it taught me that we’re a band of brothers, that we all shared that experience.”
Harris, who is from Etna, said his brother is a Vietnam veteran who got his walking stick years ago and “we have a little more in common” now that he has his own.
Coincidentally, his other brother works at Peavey Manufacturing Co. in Eddington, which makes the Maine maple walking sticks.
“To me, it’s an incredible honor to receive it,” Craig said of his walking stick. “Especially when it comes from a World War II veteran.
“A lot of people still don’t know that Galen Cole does this for all the veterans,” he said.
Cole said there is nothing like getting thanks for your military service from those who line the streets during the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day parades.
“It’s just as sweet today as the first time — hearing the crowds” applaud in support of veterans, he said, encouraging the new recipients to participate during the annual parades.
The walking sticks are to honor Maine war veterans who served during World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, the first Gulf War and those who have served or are serving in the global war on terrorism, he said. The Cole museum has given out more than 5,400 walking sticks over the years, and plans to keep on giving.
Veterans can pick up their sticks by bringing an ID and proof of service to the Cole Land Transportation Museum on Perry Road, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.