BANGOR, Maine — A Navy commander stationed at a base 3,000 miles away recently sent a letter of appreciation to a 90-year-old veteran who has been organizing Bangor’s Pearl Harbor and USS Maine remembrances for the past 40 years.
Cmdr. Bill Johnson, commanding officer of the nuclear submarine USS Maine SSBN 741, sent a letter and challenge coin to Paul Colburn of Bangor after reading a story published in the Bangor Daily News about the local man earlier this month. A challenge coin is a keepsake bearing the insignia of an organization and is usually carried by its members.
Also connecting the two men is the name of their current locations. The USS Maine’s homeport is in Bangor, Washington.
Johnson sent the letter to the Bangor Daily News, asking that it be forwarded to Colburn, which the BDN did Tuesday.
“This really made my day, right here,” Colburn said Tuesday after reading the letter. “I think it was wonderful, just great.”
The story that led Johnson to write the letter was decades in the making. Colburn, a World War II veteran who served in the Army, was tired of traveling to Portland’s annual Pearl Harbor Day ceremony, so he decided to start one in Bangor in the early 1970s.
In that same time period, he and some friends laid a wreath at the base of the USS Maine memorial along Main Street in Bangor to commemorate the anniversary of the explosion that sank the battleship named for the state in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898. The explosion and sinking killed 267 Americans and sparked the Spanish-American War.
Colburn has organized both annual events ever since.
“I greatly appreciate your extensive efforts in the Pearl Harbor Day and Remember the Maine ceremonies to make sure we always remember our nation’s history and the heroes, like yourself, that risked so much to ensure future generations can enjoy the freedoms of our nation,” Johnson wrote.
After 40 years, Colburn hopes to hand off the event planning to someone else because the effort is getting more difficult in his old age, he said.
“You truly inspire me as I’m sure you inspire the countless citizens of Maine,” Johnson wrote. “I sincerely hope that someone in your community will volunteer to carry the torch and continue what you started.”
Colburn said he’s hopeful he’ll find some veterans’ organization or some dedicated Bangor resident to assume the organization of these remembrances. Anyone interested in taking the reigns may contact him at 945-9850, he said.
“I’d like to keep going, but I just can’t do it anymore,” said Colburn, who plans on writing a response to Johnson soon.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter: @nmccrea213.