LEWISTON — From little flags waving in the hands of youngsters enthralled by a parade to a sea of red, white and blue at a spectacular Field of Honor, Saturday’s Memorial Day weekend events were all about the star spangled banner.
A parade, speeches and several special dedications marked the local celebration. Hundreds of people lined the Lewiston and Auburn parade route and many of them gathered at Veterans Memorial Park for ceremonies unveiling the site’s 21st commemorative stone. There also was a ceremony at the park to dedicate a monument depicting Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns, and there was a brief program at nearby Simard-Payne Memorial Park to open a weekend display and sale of 400 flags.
A light mist may have discouraged a larger turnout for the parade, but an audience of well over 100 filled the paved pavilion at Veterans Memorial Park for the program of speeches and music by the Just Us chorus.
The newest granite stone taking its place among the semicircle of engraved markers is in honor of the Women’s Air Force. Each of the tall granite stones bears about 220 names of service men and women of the Lewiston-Auburn area and the heading on each honors a different branch or unit of the military, as well as a central stone in memory of the sinking of the Battleship Maine.
The ceremony at the other new monument paid tribute to all unknown American warriors lost in wartime. It was funded privately by Joe Paradis who, with his brother Arthur, laid a wreath at the site.
Although the monument for the Tomb of the Unknowns is placed at the far northeastern end of Veterans Memorial Park, Joe Paradis said it will be a significant location as the park grows. An entrance that includes access for disabled visitors will be near it.
U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, Mayor Larry Gilbert and state Sen. Margaret Craven also delivered brief remarks at that ceremony.
Participants in the annual parade included several Boy Scout, Cub Scout and Girl Scout contingents. American Legion Post 134 of Sabattus brought its trailer-mounted band of drummers and glockenspiel, and three small wagons pulled by miniature horses were a special delight for children.
About 100 members of Androscoggin ROAR, a combined band of musicians from Edward Little, Lewiston and Leavitt Regional high schools marched.
Lewiston businessman Del Gendron drove a military jeep that he has donated to the Lewiston-Auburn Veterans Council for permanent display at the park as soon as a base can be constructed for it.
Overall, it was a shorter parade than has been seen in recent years.
The keynote address at the Veterans Memorial Park event was delivered by Brig. Gen. Donald McCormack, Maine’s assistant adjutant general and head of the state’s Air National Guard. He paid tribute to a great uncle who served in World War II and died when his B-17 bomber was shot down.
“As a nation, we have not forgotten the cost of freedom,” he said, noting that there are still 88,000 missing servicemen and women in wars from World War II to the present.
Michaud told the audience, “I remain humbled by the commitment and unswerving service of the veterans we honor here today.” He also thanked all veterans of the L-A area who worked to bring a permanent Veterans Administration clinic to Lewiston.
Mayor Gilbert also recognized the contributions of the area’s veterans. L-A Veterans Council chairman Ray Boulet spoke, and messages from U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins also were read.
Bert Dutil, former chairman of the L-A Veterans Council served as master of ceremonies.
A bagpiper led dignitaries and members of the public on the short walk from Veterans Memorial Park to the Field of Honor at Simard-Payne Memorial Park. There, 400 flags on poles nearly 8 feet tall had been placed in rows 20 flags wide and 20 flags long about 3 feet apart. Ribbons on the poles identified a purchaser and person or group honored.
The Field of Honor is sponsored by the Auburn Exchange Club and sales of the flags throughout the weekend will benefit the club’s charitable work.
Members of the U.S. Army Cadets of Lewiston High School and Lewiston Middle School installed the flags Friday.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage spoke at the event.
LePage and Cadet Ashley Chase attached a special ribbon to a flag in honor of her brother, Jordan Chase, who died recently during military training.
As a member of the Third Army, Sylvester was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and fighting at the bridge over the Rhine at Remagen.
As Sylvester waited for the Field of Honor dedication at Simard-Payne Memorial Park, in which he would deliver a prayer, he talked about the deep gratitude toward American servicemen he found when he returned to France for reunions in recent years.
“We were treated almost like celebrities,” he said. French citizens still express thanks for help from soldiers when food was scarce. Sylvester said soldiers often left food in their mess kits after meals because they knew French families would get some of it before it was discarded.
He said the French families instill in their children a special understanding and thankfulness for sacrifices made on their behalf.
Sylvester, a 1939 graduate of Edward Little High School, worked for the telephone company for 37 years. His wife, Barbara, who died in 2007, also served in World War II. She was a second lieutenant and saw duty in Italy and the Philippines.
Sylvester and his daughter, Kim Estes of New Gloucester, are headed for France again next week for another D-Day anniversary visit.