LEWISTON — In the final days of the United Members veterans club, Jerry Der Boghosian walked through the downtown hall and saved what he could.
"Papers were strewn all over the place," said Der Boghosian, 90. "Pictures were thrown around here and there."
It was nine years ago, and it seemed like a final indignity for an organization that once numbered in the thousands but shrank to a few elderly men. Too many members had died. Too few people knew what deserved saving.
"There was nobody else to take our place," he said.
Trucks bound for the dump lined up to haul away furniture, trash and decades of photographs and other mementos from the club's groups, the Marine Corps League of Central Maine, Les Indiens Snowshoe Club, the Franco-American War Veterans and American Legion Post 22.
In the end, guys were told to take what they wanted, lest it be tossed into a truck bed.
"Some said, 'I'll take this or I'll take that," said Paul Bernard, who then belonged to Post 22. "But most of it was 'Throw it in the dump."
The willingness to throw away history made Bernard ill.
"It was almost like a sin," he said.
But a few things were saved.
Der Boghosian grabbed some portraits from the wall, former commanders who were World War I veterans. Then, he noticed a larger, framed image.
"I spotted that and said, "Geez, we don't want to throw that away," he said.
Today, the illustration hangs in Der Boghosian's Lewiston bedroom.
"It's a history in itself, right there," he said. It's a rendering of the June 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles, formally ending World War I."
It pictures the luxurious Hall of Mirrors. Soldiers from both sides stand at attention while leaders from Italy, Belgium, England, Bulgaria and several other countries fill either side of a long table. At its far end, then-U.S. President Woodrow Wilson stands with a paper marked "justice."
"It's got everybody seated around the place with their names on them," Der Boghosian said. "They're all significant in history. Every one of them."
In the center of the room, an image of German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II pops up through the floor.
The print is numbered and signed by "J. Abys."
A similar print was auctioned in Massachusetts in 2011. According to the website, liveauctioneers.com, it failed to sell at an opening bid of $150.
However, to Der Boghosian, it's a treasure.
"An anonymous guy told me it was worth $1,000," he said. "It might be worth more than that. In all my years, I've never seen any other pictures of the signing."
Der Boghosian also saved a pair of books, all listing the ranks of Maine men and women who served during the war. The Maine Legislature published the books in 1929.
Every small piece that was spared the dump deserves to be treasured, said Rachel Desgrosseilliers, executive director of Museum L-A.
"We have a few things from World War I," she said. "Not a lot. We have more on World War II."
During both eras, many men from the area served and too many died. The ones who made it back formed groups such as United Members and its groups like Post 22.
"That was one of the biggest posts in the state of Maine," Bernard said. "They had almost 2,000 members. They were into everything."
That's why it's so extraordinary that so much was thrown away, Bernard said.
It angers Der Boghosian.
"We had a nice picture of Woodrow Wilson," he said. "That disappeared. We had a bust of General Pershing. Whoops. Gonzo."
Actually, the bust isn't gone.
A couple of days after the pickups made their dump runs, someone at the hall called Bernard.
He rescued the bust of Gen. John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing and took it home to Turner, lest it too get thrown away.
"It's been out in the flower bed since 2002," Bernard said.
He said he'd be happy to give it to a veterans' group if they want it.
"It's been out there all these years and it's still standing there," Bernard said.