Dedicated to service: L-A salutes veterans

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LEWISTON — Viewers ranked Saturday’s Memorial Day parade and ceremonies among the best seen in the Twin Cities in many years.

Crowds of parade-watchers stood shoulder to shoulder and six or eight deep along Main Street as hundreds of young and old marchers passed. The paraders included youngsters in Cub Scout packs and troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, area high school students in the ROAR of the Androscoggin combined marching band, several cadet groups and veterans’ organizations with members who served in the military back to World War II. There were numerous patriotic floats and vehicles, as well as a couple of wagons drawn by miniature horses.

Contingents from the Knights of Columbus, Civil Air Patrol, ROTC, several veterans organizations and others participated.

Motorcyclists of the American Legion Riders, Patriot Guard, Rolling Thunder, VFW Riders and United Bikers of Maine led the parade.

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“I was absolutely humbled to see the size of the crowd lining the streets,” said David Heidrich, staff assistant to U.S. Senator Susan Collins as he prepared to deliver her greetings at the Veterans Memorial Park ceremonies Saturday morning.

 With sunny weather favoring the annual observance, many family groups packed the plaza to hear speakers and to view the unveiling of the park’s 19th memorial stone with veterans’ names.

 The event’s keynote speaker was Brunswick Naval Air Station’s Command Master Chief Daniel J. Nicholson.

 Noting that the final closing of the base is coming next year, he said, “I want to thank you for welcoming our sailors and making them feel at home.”

 He said there were once 3,000 servicemen and women on the base, but now the runways are closed, there are no more planes there, and only 100 active duty personnel remain for the few coming months.

Nicholson also voiced appreciation for the BNAS veterans throughout its history and said, “They taught us how to do it and how to do it right.”

Unveiling of a new memorial bench was another important part of the observance at the park.

Dr. Thomas Shields and Bethel Shields, Auburn, took part in dedication of a granite bench honoring their son, Lt. j.g. James B. “Jeb” Shields, who died in 1991 when his Navy plane collided with another plane over the Pacific.

His body was never found.

Bethel Shields, who is president of the Gold Star Mothers of Maine, also read a list of some of the mothers of veterans, and her list included several who died recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. She asked that mothers who have lost sons and daughters in military service contact her if they would like to become members of Gold Star Mothers.

The newest granite stone listing dozens of new veteran names was unveiled by Paul R. Bernard, chairman of the Lewiston-Auburn Veterans Council; Command Master Chief Nicholson; and Henry Poisson, a World War II veteran whose name is among those on the new stone.

Family members crowded around the monument to see the names of relatives and friends. Among the veterans whose names were added was Raymond D. Gagnon of Lewiston, now a Poland resident, who posed for pictures with his granddaughter Natalie, who wore a stars-and-stripes shirt.

 “I was in the Navy from 1965 to 1972,” Gagnon said.

Any area veteran, living or deceased may be listed on the stone.

Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert Jr. told the crowd he recalled the days when he worked for an airline on which coffins of servicemen and women killed in Vietnam were returned to the United States. Gilbert had served earlier in Vietnam and he said he was about to become a river boat driver, which was very hazardous duty. Instead, he was assigned to a headquarters job, and he told the Lewiston audience, “I often wondered, pulling out those coffins (from the arriving airliners) if one of them might have been one who took my place. If that’s the case, for his service, and for all who served our country, I thank them.”

As a wreath was placed at Veterans Memorial Park, a rifle squad from American Legion Post 135 of Sabattus, fired a salute and bugler Roger Renaud played taps.

Names of veterans who have died since Memorial Day last year were read by chaplains of veterans’ organizations including American Legion, Veterans of Foreign War, AMVETS, Disabled American War Veterans, Franco-American War Veterans, Marine Corps League, and Order of the Purple Heart.

 In addition to Heinrich’s presentation of the letter from Senator Collins, a letter from U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe was read by Diane Jackson and a letter from U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud was read by Matt Dubois.

 Maurice Marquis sang the national anthem and “God Bless America.”

World War II veteran Henry Poisson of Turner, left, escorted by Command Master Chief Daniel J. Nicholson of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, places a wreath at the veterans monument in Veterans Park in Lewiston on Saturday.

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