Almost none of the Old Town High School athletes who have played over the decades at Victory Field, the school’s football and soccer facility, have had any idea that their field wasn’t named for their success in sports, as was commonly assumed for many years.
But 100 years ago, when the field was first dedicated, it was named in honor of veterans of World War I, which ended on Nov. 11, 1918 — Armistice Day, the day that we now observe as Veterans Day. A marker noting the honor was never installed, however, and as time went on, the reason for the memorial began to be forgotten.
Last month, Old Town High School’s JROTC finally completed that century-old project, when it installed and then dedicated a new bronze plaque honoring the veterans of World War I, as the field’s founders intended when it first opened in 1920.
Mary Gibouleau, a longtime volunteer with the Old Town Museum, knew that the field was a memorial to World War I veterans, but had never looked into why there was no marker. During the early days of the pandemic, however, some serious vandalism at the field while it was closed to sports activities sparked her interest in finding out.
“That vandalism really made me mad, but it also made me remember that I’d always wanted to look into why there’s no memorial,” she said. “It just turns out that they ran out of money all those years ago, and it just never happened. They’re really well maintained, beautiful fields. The only thing missing was a plaque.”
Gibouleau asked nearly everyone she ran into around town if they knew what Victory Field was named for, and not one did.
“Nobody knew,” she said. “Perhaps there are a few older folks out there that remember, but there aren’t many of them left. New administrators come in, new teachers, families move away. Things get forgotten. That’s why it’s important to make sure people don’t forget.”
Gibouleau passed that information along to Old Town’s JROTC instructors, Lt. Col. Steve Szewc and 1st Sgt. Joel Peaslee, and they and their cadets quickly took it on as their service project for 2020. They dubbed the project “Operation Doughboy,” for the nickname for Americans serving overseas in World War I.
Cadets raised funds for the plaque, with help from the Old Town Historical Society and local chapters of the VFW and the Daughters of the American Revolution. A rededication ceremony was held on Oct. 23, before an Old Town High School girls’ soccer game.
Though World War I saw more than 4 million U.S. service members mobilized and more than 116,000 U.S. service members killed in the 21 months the country was involved in the conflict, public awareness of what was once known as the “Great War” is nowhere near as high as it is for other conflicts like the Civil War. More than 32,000 Mainers fought in the war, and 1,032 were killed.
That may, in part, be because the last U.S. World War I veteran died in 2011. In addition, the conflict was greatly overshadowed 23 years after its end when the U.S. entered World War II, a far larger, longer and bloodier conflict.
But World War I memorials are all over Maine, from the Lady Victory Memorial in Bangor’s Norumbega Parkway to the 100 linden trees planted in 1921 along Baxter Boulevard in Portland to the memorial tower placed atop Mt. Battie in Camden. Most of them were created by fundraising committees in each town, which solicited donations and whose members pitched in to create them.
And now, Old Town, with its newly rededicated athletic field, officially has one of them as well.
“It’s nice to think of all the people in the town who raised all the money to build the field in the first place. Farmers brought their horses out to plow it out. It was a real community effort,” Gibouleau said. “We just had to get it over the finish line 100 years later.”
Correction: An earlier version of this report misspelled Mary Gibouleau’s last name.