LEWISTON — It was all red, white and blue for Veterans Appreciation Day at Sunday’s Maineiacs hockey game held at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee. Military families, veterans, those on active duty and plain old patriots gathered to cheer on the local hockey team while taking time out periodically to remember and honor those who have served our country. 

“The Maineiacs wanted to pay tribute to the veterans,” explained George O’Connell, the Maineiacs’ sales representative and coordinator for the event. “It’s our way to give something back to the veterans and to show them the respect that we have for them.” 

The game against the Rimouski Oceanic was chosen because it was the closest home game to the Nov. 11 holiday. All veterans and military personnel were offered discount ticket prices for the evening’s game, and O’Connell estimated that more than 250 tickets were donated or given free of charge for either veterans or those participating in ceremonies during the night.

“Local businesses were really supportive when I told them it was in appreciation of our veterans,” said O’Connell. “Many donated money or tickets in order for me to supply local veterans.”

The game opened with five different color guards surrounding the arena with multicolored banners: American Legion Post 153, Lewiston High School Junior R.O.T.C. with members from Edward Little High School and Oak Hill, Maine AMVET, Brunswick Naval Air Station and a local veteran chapter referred to as The Francos.

The Lewiston High School choir sang the Canadian national anthem in respect for the visiting team, and the 195 Army National Guard Band out of Bangor played the U.S. national anthem, finishing with rousing applause from the audience.

Doing the honors of dropping the ceremonial first puck was Gen. John Libby, adjunct general of the Maine National Guard.

“Veterans’ week is a very exciting time for all of us,” said Libby. “It gives us the opportunity to recognize the men and women who have served the nation, and it’s important to do so in venues like this because I think youngsters need to see how much the general public appreciates the service and sacrifice that veterans have made.”

According to Libby, Maine has 2,100 Army National Guard and 1,300 Air National Guard members. Ninety are currently stationed in Afghanistan, and in December, January and February another 900 will be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Between the first and second periods, Libby presented a plaque from the city of Lewiston and the Maineiacs to Capt. Will Fitzgerald, commanding officer of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, in appreciation of all the base has done for Maine over the past 66 years. The BNAS is scheduled to close in 2011.

“This is indicative of what a great military area the whole Midcoast Maine is,” said Fitzgerald on receiving the award. “There are five color guards and all different services here today for the Veterans’ Appreciation Day game. It’s just great that the Maineiacs even thought to do this. It’s a great start to other celebrations around the state.”

Other Veterans’ Appreciation Day specialties included tables manned by Army and Navy recruiters with information and the Maine Military & Community Network, which was on hand to raise awareness of support services available to veterans and families of those serving in the military. A video compiled by Kellie Morris, game operations assistant, played between the second and third periods. Clips showed American soldiers throughout the years while a sentimental melody played in the background.

Although the final score wasn’t in favor of the home team (they lost 1-4), the team scored big points with local veterans, military families and fans as they helped kick off the holiday and honor our service men and women with the gusto only a hockey team can.

Disabled Vietnam veteran Bob Berube of Lewiston sings the National Anthem during the veterans ceremony at the Colisee in Lewiston on Sunday. Berube was the first commander of the Franco-American War Veterans Post 31 in Lewiston. Current members of the Post 31 Color Guard post their colors below. From left are Maurice Fournier, Donald Gosselin and Lindy McCallum.

Seaman, Yeoman Striker Jeremy Vandegraft of the Brunswick Naval Air Station Honor Guard adjusts his flag prior to the Veterans’ Appreciation Day ceremony at the Colisee in Lewiston on Sunday.

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