SABATTUS — More than 30 veterans representing three Maine National Guard units gathered on a recent Sunday morning in Sabattus for an annual breakfast aimed at reuniting them for more than just a funeral.

At least that’s how veteran Rick Carney and his fellow guardsmen see it.

“I’m tired of seeing the fellow men that we served with in a casket,” Carney said of why he and others started the annual breakfast five years ago. “Every single guy who comes to this comes because he wants to see the people he served with.”

The breakfast at the American Legion Post 135 in Sabattus brought together retirees from the 133rd Combat Heavy Engineers, 103rd Infantry and the 20th Armor divisions of the Maine National Guard. More than half of the 60 retired guardsmen invited attended the early morning event, representing more than 900 years of service to the state’s National Guard units.

Some traveled just short distances from Sabattus, Lewiston or Auburn, while others came from as far away as the tip of Aroostook County near the Canadian border.

“These are people I’ve been with for years that I haven’t seen in years, and there are some who were here before me,” John S. Arnoldy, 57, said.

Originally from Lewiston, Arnoldy now lives in St. David in far northern Maine. He said the chance to see men he served with for years in the Maine National Guard was well worth the six-plus-hour drive.

“When you’re on active duty, these guys become like your brothers,” Tony Albert, 77, of Lewiston said. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

Albert and several others hung around to reminisce about old times long after the tables were cleared and the official photo snapped. The men discussed the importance of camaraderie as key to keeping soldiers connected long after they retire from the Armed Forces or National Guard.

Carney said the breakfast attracts more and more retirees each year and that the group is hoping to add a second annual event in the fall, possibly a barbecue. He credited fellow guard retiree and former commander of Post 135, Nel Binette, with starting the annual reunion.

“There’s more people coming each year. We’re getting good turnout,” Vernon Tardif, 66, of Auburn said. “It’s almost like when you go to your class reunion every so many years.”

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