Bridge dedication honors a fallen Mexico soldier

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Nine-year-old Owen McLain of Peru does the honor Friday of uncovering the dedication plaque for the PFC Buddy Wendell McLain Memorial Bridge, named after his father. From left are Owen’s mother, Chelsea McLain, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and state Rep. Richard Pickett, R-Dixfield. (Bruce Farrin/Sun Journal)

PERU — Nine-year-old Owen McLain of Peru unveiled the plaque dedicating the new PFC Buddy Wendell McLain Memorial Bridge in honor of his father Friday.

“This bridge is a tremendous gift, and a wonderful symbolism for his son, who only has pictures and stories of his father,” McLain’s widow, Chelsea, told the crowd at the ceremony. “It stands firm and we can get across this together.

“It’s been an honor to see my local communities come together to make this happen. Owen is the best thing we have in this world to repair our hearts to the loss of Buddy,” she said.

The $7.7 million bridge, which spans the Androscoggin River between Peru and Mexico, is a tribute to the U.S. Army cavalry scout from Mexico who died Nov. 29, 2010, while serving in Afghanistan. A member of the 101st Airborne Division, McLain died of wounds suffered in an attack during Operation Enduring Freedom. He was 24 years old.

“I hope this bridge will give Owen an idea how great his dad was, not only to us, but to everyone who walks, drives, snowmobiles across this bridge,” Chelsea McLain said. “It represents the most basic of American ideals. You go to war, serve this country and support your family. And, although all write that blank check to serve our country for an amount up to and including your life, far too many young men like Buddy cashed that check.

“I thank you all for honoring him, and the five other brave men who lost their lives alongside Buddy that day on Hero Hill,” she said.

Brig. Gen. Dwaine Drummond of the Maine National Guard said, “Throughout our nation’s history, we have honored our fallen heroes in many ways. May this always be a visible symbol to what his dad and our heroes mean to us.”

State Rep. Richard Pickett, R-Dixfield, who sponsored the bill to name the bridge, said, “They should know, and remember, how grateful we all are for Buddy’s ultimate sacrifice for his country. I am certain that this gratitude extends from all of our local communities and indeed, from everyone in Maine.”

State Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, spoke of the sacrifice made by McLain and his family.

“No one can give enough honor to compensate for the sacrifice that Buddy made, the daily sacrifice that his family must make,” she said. “A bridge is a beautiful memorial to a fallen soldier. Because of Buddy, and other brave soldiers, countless people around the world live free.”

Also attending the ceremony was U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, who presented Owen with a U.S. flag that had flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Poliquin said that because of McLain’s “hard work and sacrifice, we are free.”

Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony by McLain’s family, four Maine Army National Guard helicopters from G Company in Bangor did a flyover.

The 45-minute ceremony concluded with Mexico Police Chief Roy Hodsdon driving Owen across the bridge in a police cruiser, the first vehicle to cross the span. People on both sides of the bridge cheered, including Owen’s classmates from Dirigo Elementary School in Peru, many of them waving American flags.

Leading the procession to the ceremony was the Piscataqua Rangers Jr. Fife & Drum Corps. Damien Nadeau sang the national anthem.

The bridge was opened to traffic shortly after the ceremony.

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Chelsea McLain of Peru and her son, Owen, 9, watch a Maine Army National Guard helicopter flyover Friday during the dedication of the PFC. Buddy Wendell McLain Memorial Bridge between Mexico and Peru. (Bruce Farrin/Sun Journal)

Owen McLain, 9, of Peru, is driven across the new PFC. Buddy Wendell McLain Memorial Bridge, named in honor of his father, by Mexico Police Chief Roy Hodsdon on Friday. Some of Owen’s classmates at Dirigo Elementary School in Peru wave American flags during the bridge dedication ceremony. (Bruce Farrin/Sun Journal)

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, presents Owen McLain with a U.S. flag that was flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The gesture was part of Friday’s dedication of the new PFC Buddy Wendell McLain Memorial Bridge between Peru and Mexico in honor of Owen’s father. At center is Owen’s widow, Chelsea McLain, of Peru. (Bruce Farrin/Sun Journal)

Members of Army Pfc. Buddy McLain’s family do the honors Friday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new PFC. Buddy Wendell McLain Memorial Bridge over the Androscoggin River between Peru and Mexico. (Bruce Farrin/Sun Journal)

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