PISCATAQUIS COUNTY, Maine — As the snow slowly fell on Borestone Mountain last Saturday, 12 individuals ages 11 to 45 checked their gear in the parking lot before heading off to snowshoe hike up the East Peak summit.
But unlike most hikers, these 12 added something special to their packs.
Each hiker carefully placed a stone engraved with a name or initials and a date into their packs. The stones, all unique in size and shape, were carefully chosen by the families of Maine fallen heroes as part of The Summit Project.
David J. Cote, an active-duty Marine Corps officer and native of Bangor, founded the living memorial in 2013 over Memorial Day weekend as a unique way to carry on the memories of Maine’s fallen heroes from September 11, 2001, on.
As the hikers approached an icy incline, many started doubting their ability to get to the top. But encouraging words from Chad Januskiewicz, the program lead on this hike, and Ted Coffin, TSP support, kept the hikers moving.
“It’s meant to be a challenge,” Januskiewicz said. “It’s meant to be something that you learn something from.”
With the summit in sight, the group worked together to make sure they reached their goal. At the top of the East Peak summit, with stones in hand, the group circled up. Each told the story of their fallen solider, some explaining why they picked the stone they did.
Michaela Hill, 16, became very emotional while telling the story of Joshua M. Bernard, whose memorial stone she carried. Bernard, a Marine, was killed in August 2014 at the age of 21 while supporting combat operations in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Hill explained that she had asked Januskiewicz to pick her stone for her, but in the end felt as if the stone might have picked her. Bernard’s sister had picked out the stone from a place where they had played when younger and it made Hill think of her relationship with her brother, Cole, who recently enlisted into the Marines.
“When I first did this, I just thought it was a really cool way to do something for Memorial Day weekend, support the troops and remember what they did,” said Januskiewicz. “After the hike, a family member pulled me aside and told me how important it was to them, for their healing process. In Maine we care about each other, and that just kind of comes through.”