By Roxanne Saucier
BANGOR, Maine — It’s the question heard daily at Cole Land Transportation Museum on Perry Road: “Are you still giving out walking sticks to Maine war veterans?”
The answer is an enthusiastic “yes,” especially since the total number of walking sticks distributed to veterans of four war eras from all 16 counties passed 8,500 on June 10, with Vietnam veterans receiving the most walking sticks at 3,542.
World War II veterans who participate in Bangor’s Memorial Day Parade each year also have a red-white-and-blue sticker with the year on it placed on their walking sticks. This year, museum volunteers were on hand before the start of the parade with a new sticker created especially for veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam War and Global War on Terror who marched or rode in the parade with their walking sticks.
Several hundred veterans turned out for the parade last month, bringing their sticks to be adorned with the reflective stickers, and museum founder Galen Cole said he hopes that those who weren’t able to take part on Memorial Day will bring their walking sticks to the Fourth of July Parade and get their 2013 sticker then.
The walking stick program at Cole Land Transportation Museum was planned as a one-time project on Memorial Day 1999, with 500 maple walking sticks made by Peavey Manufacturing to be given to World War II veterans to help boost their participation in Bangor’s patriotic parades.
Galen Cole, who had seen an ornate walking stick produced for veterans in another state, wanted to have a less costly Maine-made stick, crafted from Maine maple, as a gift to honor World War II veterans from the state. He also saw giving out the sticks as a way to encourage the WWII vets to participate in local parades, where they would receive the appreciation of the crowds that turn out for the patriotic events.
The project was a success — and then some. It brought 2,500 people to Memorial Day ceremonies at the museum in 1999, including a total of 1,200 World War II veterans. All available walking sticks were passed out, and veterans who didn’t get one received a card entitling them to pick one up as soon as more could be made.
Peavey Manufacturing donated the first batches of walking sticks, and since then has sold the sticks to the museum at a discount so that it could continue the program and even expand it to veterans of more recent war eras.
Blue walking sticks were given to Korean War veterans beginning in 2006. Vietnam War walking sticks were created with their own markings in 2007, and walking sticks for Global War on Terror added in 2009.
More than 2,300 World War II veterans have received sticks since 1999, Cole said. Korean War veterans have been given more than 1,100 sticks, and Global War on Terror veterans — including current members of the military — more than 1,500 walking sticks.
Cole never dreamed that the walking stick program would be so popular and continue to draw such tremendous interest. He said he has been particularly touched by how much the walking sticks have meant to Vietnam veterans.
“Nobody ever said thank you to them when they came home from the war,” Cole said, “and they are so appreciative to hear it now.”
He added that he also has been pleased to see veterans from Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East wars volunteer to meet with students in the museum’s Veterans Interview Program, which is held during spring and fall when school is in session.
As for the new stickers for walking sticks, Cole said that veterans who didn’t get one on Memorial Day are welcome to come early to get one before the Fourth of July Parade, which kicks off at 11 a.m. Thursday, July 4, on Wilson Street in Brewer. Volunteers will be on hand to apply the stickers to walking sticks near the Brewer pool.
Cyr buses will be available to carry veterans who can’t walk the route along Wilson Street in Brewer and down Main Street in Bangor. Buses will bring participating veterans back to the beginning of the parade route after the parade.
Walking sticks for Maine veterans not previously receiving one may be picked up 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily at Cole Land Transportation Museum, 405 Perry Road, Bangor. Maine veterans of the four war eras should bring ID and either their DD 214 discharge paper or other proof of military service.
Information on Cole Land Transportation Museum is available at 990-3600, ext. 13, or www.colemuseum.org. Admission is $7 adults, $5 age 62 and up, free to those age 18 and under.