The oldest of 10 kids, Al Richard dropped out of high school so he could help his dad work, logging in the woods.
Back in the day, he was a little wild. In the late 1930s, a little wild meant slipping out of his parents' Upton home to see friends in Berlin, N.H.
"We used to go dancing and raise hell," Richard said.
After one of those jaunts, "I come back home (and said to myself), 'I guess I'll go see Uncle Sam, maybe he can use me.'"
Richard was 17, underage. His parents had to give permission for him to join the Army.
"They were tickled pink to sign," he said. "They knew it would either make a man out of me or . . ."
A year after he enlisted, he went to war. Richard intended to stay in the service for three years. He stayed for five. Two of those were active combat, fighting in 10 countries during World War II. He earned two Bronze Stars.
"Everybody says, 'How'd you get that?' Being scared."
His parents were right. He says he came back a man.
Richard turns 91 on Sunday, Veterans Day.
"Deep down, I know I'm old," he said. "When you get into your 90s, you know you're going the other way."
He's given up downhill skiing and golf, but he still keeps to a schedule, visiting the Rumford Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1641 every morning and American Legion Post 24 after that.
"We get a lot of respect here," Richard said.
In Rumford, and around Maine, he's in good company.
A long tradition
The state has the second-highest concentration of veterans, per capita, in the country, second only to Alaska. In 2010, Maine also had the highest Army recruitment rate in the U.S.
Maine has a long history of service to country, according to Peter Ogden, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services. During the Civil War, close to 60 percent of Maine's men fought in the war. (Women were active, too, but their numbers weren't counted as well.)
According to the bureau, 35,061 Mainers served in World War I, 112,962 in World War II, 40,099 in Korea and 48,000 in Vietnam. Close to 10,000 have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, Ogden said.
In the Maine Air and Army National Guard, more than 350 are deployed in the current conflict, according to guard spokesman Major Michael Steinbuchel.
"The young men and women are raising their hand today and enlisting knowing they're going to combat," Ogden said. "I don't want to say (they're) looking forward to it, but they're not shirking that responsibility either."
Part of Maine's high rate is tradition, Ogden said: "You look around at the fathers, the sons, the brothers, the uncles, all their relatives have served."
Part of it is a job and educational benefits: "To see the world, to leave the potato fields."
Also boosting Maine's numbers: Retirees from Loring Air Force Base and Brunswick Naval Air Station staying local after leaving the service, populations that will dwindle in the future with those base closures. (Loring, in Limestone, shut down in 1994; BNAS last year.)
"We're still seeing some Navy guys because they have homes here, but their future is not going to be here," Ogden said.
Maine has roughly 136,000 veterans, a little more than 10 percent of the state's population, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 70 percent served in wartime.
"We probably have a higher percentage that have issues because of their military service," Ogden said. "We have a lot of visible wounds and we have a lot of invisible wounds. We talk today about (post-traumatic stress disorder) and traumatic brain injury. TBI is one of the big things we're dealing with. I think those were always there, but we called them different things. Shell-shock, in the old days."
Some 50,000 veterans are enrolled in free and low-cost health services through the VA Maine Healthcare System. Four in five are active patients, spokesman Jim Doherty said.
He's always trying to reach more veterans. Some don't realize that eligibility requirements or benefits have changed over the years, Doherty said. Others equate receiving help with taking it from someone else — not true, he said. What's earned is earned.
When it comes to recognizing veterans, Maine has done more than some other states, Ogden said. Since he came on in 2006, he's handed out more than 2,000 honorable service medals, as well as commemorative coins specific to female veterans.
He's also started a count of Maine prisoners of war. It's passed 750.
On Sunday, he'll be at the Stockton Springs American Legion.
"The greatest pleasure is recognizing their service and thanking them and talking to them," Ogden said. "We have so many amazing veterans in Maine."
Karen Worcester of Columbia Falls now heads the effort started by her husband, Morrill, 21 years ago when he donated 5,000 Maine-made wreaths to veterans' graves at Arlington National Cemetery for Christmas. This year, with sponsors and countless volunteers, Wreaths Across America is on pace for 400,000 wreaths to be delivered to graves in 800 U.S. locations and 24 spots overseas. It's still headquartered, and all made, Down East.
Worcester was proud to hear her state had so many veterans. Honoring them, she said, brings people together, particularly refreshing after all the partisan sniping leading up to last week's election.
"You have to know history, and the real history of the United States isn't even all the turmoil and everything we've gone through. It's what the people are made of. And the people are made of such character that they'll go out and lay their lives down so that others can live free," Worcester said. "And that's what you can teach when you take a child and you stand at a gravestone and they read that name and they see this isn't some old man that's buried there, but some young person who made that kind of sacrifice. Everyone can agree on that."
'Faster than a bullet'
Al Richard lost his brother in World War II. Omer was a year younger, "the best-looking one in the bunch." He'd joined the Navy and was killed, and buried, at sea. Five of the six Richard brothers joined different branches of the service in different wars. Omer was the only one not to come home.
During his active duty, Al Richard served with the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion. He was a forward observer, reading maps.
"I never got injured; I got lucky," he said. "I tell people I was faster than a bullet."
He earned one of his Bronze Stars crawling on his hands and knees to repair a phone line — and resume communications — in Germany. The other was for rushing out of a foxhole to put out a fire around a truck holding a howitzer and ammo in France.
When orders finally arrived to come home, before the war had ended, "we didn't want to go home," Richard said. "The captain said, 'You are.' We didn't want to. We were having too much fun. There were some nice-looking women over there . . . I didn't go for the women. I was an angel."
Richard came back home in 1945 with a rank of T5. He met and married a local girl, Olivette. They had five children and Richard spent the rest of his working days at the then-Oxford Paper Co. He lost Olivette when she died in 1997 after 51 years of marriage.
On Veterans Day he'll attend a ceremony at Mountain Valley High School. After that, in the VFW hall, they'll likely cut some cake.
"I never thought I'd see 91," he said.