Back in December, I wrote about a veterans organization open to anyone who served in the military and was honorably discharged.
Rod Green Sr. of Aurora wanted to be sure men and women knew that La Societe des 40 Hommes et 8 Chevaux (The Society of 40 Men and 8 Horses), founded in 1920 after World War I, welcomes both men and women veterans and that there are local chapters in Maine.
More recently, Rod wrote me that several people had contacted him after that column, and he had written them “to reach out to the newer generation of veterans and their families.”
Then he added that the 40 & 8 will hold its annual George Washington Bash, hosted by Voiture 1003 of South Portland, beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, at the Best Western Merry Manor Inn in South Portland, and he hopes some of those new members attend.
The event coincides with a regular meeting of the organization. The cost of the meal is $25 per person, and reservations can be made by calling Marsha Farr of Portland at 773-9615.
Anyone who wants to spend the night can make reservations by calling the hotel at 744-6151 and indicating you are with the 40 & 8.
“It’s a good time, and we’d love to have old or new members attend,” Rod wrote.
But what struck me most about this letter was the history it contained and where that history led me.
Rod wrote at last year’s event that his wife, Sunshine Green, spoke with one of the oldest members to learn the history of the Maine organization, and the story she told was quite charming.
While Rod wasn’t sure of the gentleman’s name, he was sure Marsha would have it.
Happily, for me, Marsha had not only his name but also his phone number, so I gave him a call.
It turns out the man who provided Sunshine with some colorful 40 & 8 Maine history is 83-year-old Doug Curtis of Rockland, who is planning to attend the event, although he is late getting his reservation in for a reason I’ll explain later.
When I spoke with Doug, I read him what Sunshine recalled of their conversation one year ago, and he graciously agreed she was right on the mark with her comments.
When he was a child, Doug told Sunshine, his father and mother regularly attended the annual Washington’s Bash, and he remembered that hundreds of horse and buggies, or Model T’s, lined the streets around the Eastland Hotel in Portland, “with men and women pouring out for an evening of fun. The banquet was the place to be,” he told Sunshine.
“Women would order, or make, special fancy ball gowns. It was the happening thing.”
Doug remembered people would look forward to it, “each year, and would never think to miss it.”
Doug’s father was one of the organization’s earlier Maine members, when the 40 & 8 was still associated with the American Legion. Doug joined in the mid-’50s, after serving in Korea.
Doug went on to lead the Maine organization as Chef de Gare, as did another well-known veteran, Maine Troop Greeter Bill Knight of Bangor.
“I think Bill and I are the two oldest Chefs remaining,” Doug told me, and he considers this annual gathering very special.
“We call it a Promenade,” he said.
“In other words, we kill two birds with one stone” as members socialize and conduct business of the organization, which became independent in 1960.
Doug reminded me that one of the 40 & 8’s most prominent members was the late President Harry S. Truman, who served in World War I. “He was very proud of that,” Doug said.
The 40 & 8, for those who are unaware, was named for French train boxcars which, during WWI, carried either 40 men or eight horses.
When I told Doug that Marsha was concerned because she had not heard from him, he explained he’d been recovering from a heart attack, but he does plan to attend, and he’s very lucky to be able to go.
Doug told me that while he was attending the state convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine in mid-October at Sunday River in Newry, he suffered a major heart attack.
Luckily for him, his roommate was “the emergency room doctor at Pen Bay” Medical Center in Rockport, Doug said, “and he brought me around.”
Dr. Jim Curtis, who is not related to Doug, “saved my life,” Doug said.
The doctor told Doug “he had trouble rousing me,” Doug said, which led to emergency services, hospitalization and successive lifesaving procedures.
Today, thanks to Dr. Curtis, Doug is looking forward to continuing his 40 & 8 activities, and is equally happy to be able to continue serving as junior warden for his church, overseeing the activities of its volunteers and taking care of its physical structures.
Amazing men, these older veterans of ours.
Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; firstname.lastname@example.org; 990-8288.