LEWISTON — A large crowd and a list of distinguished speakers honored scores of local Korean War veterans Saturday morning at a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the war.
The event took place at Veterans Park under perfect summer skies with an eagle circling, as if on cue, above the park and the Great Falls. The plaza was filled with family members, friends and representatives of many military and veteran organizations.
“I was very surprised and delighted when I saw how many Korean vets came out,” said Bert Dutil, event organizer, master of ceremonies and past chairman of the Lewiston-Auburn Veterans’ Council. Several dozen veterans of the Korean conflict who were seated near the front of the plaza received certificates of appreciation following the program.
“I was afraid I might run out of certificates,” Dutil said. He noted that “some of the veterans asked for a certificate for a friend in a nursing home, and some wives of veterans who could not come asked for a certificate.”
Nearly all of the speakers said the three-year Korean War has been known as “the forgotten war,” but they declared that it will never be forgotten in Maine, nor in Lewiston-Auburn.
U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud said, “This day is critical in preparing the history of this war.” He said the people of South Korea are now free and enjoying economic prosperity because of the sacrifices of United Nations forces, mostly American and including many British and Australian military units.
U.S. Sen. Angus King named several Maine veterans of the Korean conflict. He drew upon quotations from an address delivered by Maine’s celebrated Civil War hero, Joshua Chamberlain, at Gettysburg, Pa., in 1886, which paralleled the acts of courageousness by American warriors in Korea.
Brig. Gen. James D. Campbell, adjutant general of the Maine Army National Guard, recalled the heroics of Lewis Lee Millett Sr., a native of Mechanic Falls and a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. Millett joined the U.S. Army intending to fight in Europe in the early days of World War II. Because America was not then entering the war, he and many others like him deserted and went to Canada to enlist for overseas service. Those soldiers’ desertions were pardoned, and later as an American soldier, Millett received the Silver Star for driving a burning ammunition truck away from a group of soldiers before it exploded.
In Korea, Millett led the last major American bayonet charge, which earned him the Medal of Honor, and he served seven years in Vietnam. He died in 2009.
U.S. Navy Capt. Robert Crowe, superintendent of shipbuilding at the naval shipyard in Bath, told of the Maine shipyard’s connections with the Korean War, noting that 32 Bath-built ships, many re-commissioned after World War II service, saw action and service in and near Korea. He said a new vessel is under construction and will be named for naval aviator Capt. Thomas Hudner, a New Englander who received the medal of honor for attempting a rescue of his wingman following crashes in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea.
U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Troy Vest of Scarborough described heroic search-and-rescue efforts by the Coast Guard in Korea. U.S. Marine Capt. Adam Sacchetti of Brunswick and Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Willborn of Lewiston also described important battles of the Korean War and the important part played by Maine Korean War veterans.
Maine’s first lady, Ann LePage, delivered an address representing Gov. Paul LePage.
Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald and Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte also delivered remarks. Greetings from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins were read by her representative, Carlene Tremblay.
Musical numbers were presented by the Just Us singers.
Booths at the event included the Veterans Center Van; American Legion Post 153 of New Auburn; Franco-American Veterans Post 31; and Lunn Hunnewell Post 6, Amvets, of New Gloucester.