It was Veterans Day 60 years ago when Bert Dutil stood at the center of history-making events half a world away from his Lewiston home. His Franco-American heritage had earned him a role as a translator for French-speaking participants in the Panmunjom armistice talks in Korea.

Dutil, who is well-known for his tireless efforts on behalf of all veterans in this area, recently recalled those events and shared some scrapbook scenes of his military service in Korea.

He and four high school buddies went to Portland, Maine, to enlist for U.S. Army service in 1950. Only one of them was accepted at that time, and it wasn’t Dutil.

“I was the smallest,” he said, and a quota for enlistees capped the opportunities that time, but in 1952 Dutil’s chance came when he was drafted.

He went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for basic training and he tells of being asked by a major to consider band training, because the major saw that Dutil played drums and glockenspiel.

“Glockenspiel? What’s that?” Dutil asked. He said he had only known the instrument as a lyre, but the offer sounded good. However, the military decided Dutil would carry a rifle, not a lyre, and within a few weeks he was headed for the front lines in Korea.

“It was hard, especially on the front line,” Dutil said. He had spent about a month on combat duty when it was learned that he spoke French, and interpreters were needed at the peace talks in the DMZ (demilitarized zone) on the border of North and South Korea. Dutil spent the rest of his tour of duty working for the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission.

Dutil joked that the Quebec-based French accent and dialect he grew up with in L-A led to a few situations where he sort of needed a translator of his own.

Dutil recalled the mix of nationalities and languages involved in the protracted peace talks. There were 26 or more nations with both large and small roles in the Korean War negotiations. He said he became well-acquainted with many other translators and participants in the talks, including some from Switzerland, Sweden, Poland and Czechoslovakia. He remembered that two translators from Poland, then under Soviet Union control, were seeking political asylum.

Prisoner of war negotiations were a critical part of the Panmunjom talks, and Dutil noted the extremely difficult circumstances that armistice negotiators faced when POWs from North Korea didn’t want to go back to that country’s oppression.

Since his Korean War experience, Dutil has devoted countless hours to community work inspired by his military service. Most notable is the impressive development of Veterans Memorial Park at the Lewiston end of Longley Bridge.

Its spectacular view of the Androscoggin River falls is the setting for a remarkable semi-circle of five-foot-tall commemorative granite stones. They have been added year by year through efforts of Dutil and other volunteers, and there are now 24 stones in place.

Each stone bears the names of 216 servicemen and women, both active and non-active, and either living or deceased. A ceremony with special significance took place on July 27, 2006, when Dutil and about a dozen other Korean vets gathered at Veterans Memorial Park to mark the first time the end of the Korean War had been noted in L-A.

Other features of the city-owned park have been added, making it a showpiece for the communities. There’s a jeep on a pedestal and a large piece of artillery from a ship.

Dutil laughingly recalled a trip he and others involved in the park took to accept donation of the armament. He thanked a naval officer for “the cannon,” and received a quick reprimand.

“That’s a gun, not a cannon,” he was informed. “On a ship, it’s a gun.”

Dutil has served several years as head of the Lewiston-Auburn Veterans Council. Following military service, Dutil joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars, as well as Franco-American War Veterans Post 31 in Lewiston.

Dutil is also a founder and long-time director of the acclaimed Pine Tree Warriors Drum and Bugle Corps and Color Guard. Dutil began a 30-year association with the Pine Tree Warriors in 1959 because he saw the need for a youth activity that embodied a military model of teamwork.

Looking back on his military career and his involvement with recognition for all veterans, Dutil summed it up by saying, “We have been so lucky, it’s unbelievable.”


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