LEWISTON — Local veterans were treated to a breakfast and tribute by the Maine Army Cadets and Junior ROTC at Lewiston High School on Monday morning.

Cadets and ROTC members arrived at the school around 6 a.m. Color guards were prepped and speeches readied by the youth, a representative from the Maine Army National Guard, a representative for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and by Mayor Robert Macdonald.

Cadets Michael Gordon, 15, and Matthew Speaker, 15, snapped to attention, opening the door for guests with a quick “sir” or “ma’am;” shaking hands and thanking vets for their service.

In the cafeteria, Isaac Sterling, 14, worked the room quickly, shaking hands and making all the guests feel welcome.

A cadet for about a year, Sterling already displayed flawless military bearing, answering questions quickly, concisely and always followed by a “sir” or “ma’am.”

Breakfast was served buffet style. Veterans came up, got food, refilled their coffee cups and talked.

Cadet leader Terry Waite said he was relieved the event went off so well. Waite has been running the program with the help of volunteers since her co-leader, Principal Gus LeBlanc, left the high school.

She moved around the room, greeting guests, giving orders to her cadets and searching for an elusive set of keys. A couple cadets were mobilized for the search while Waite printed programs in another room.

Waite said she had hoped to decorate the tables with canteens and helmets but ran out of time as Veterans Day quickly approached. The many appreciative vets didn’t notice the lack of centerpieces.

The Junior ROTC was led by Lt. Col. Mark Welborn, who is beginning his fourth year with the 25-year-old program.

At a table with his family, 91-year-old Bert Matheiu of Lewiston casually asked, “You heard of Omaha Beach?”

Mathieu said he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, as part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Mathieu went on with the 32nd Armored Division to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s counteroffensive push from December to January 1944 that left 19,000 Americans dead.

“It wasn’t all fun but it was a good thing to do,” Mathieu said of his time in the service.

Mathieu was sitting with his brother-in-law, Roland Pelletier, who served in the Air Force. Pelletier served in Greenland, above the Arctic Circle before the Maine native was called home to serve in Bangor.

“I wanted to travel,” Pelletier said, “and they sent me home.”

Following the presentation of colors, Junior ROTC member and LHS Junior Bernadette Racine sang the national anthem as all veterans in the room rendered a salute.

Macdonald addressed the crowd, beginning with an evocation of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” a song penned in 1971 about a Australian soldier severely wounded at the Battle of Gallipoli.

He described those going off to war with a light and celebratory attitude saying, “they were going to go over there and they were going to decimate the enemy but, when they got there, they found out war was just a little different than what they had expected.”

Macdonald said the reality they found was the hunger, the hurting, the pain and the death of friends. He said the maimed were brought home in the dark of night, hidden from their communities.

“If you look at the gentlemen, the Marines and the soldiers who have won the Congressional Medal of Honor,” he said “you don’t see joy on their faces or happiness or bravado. You see a look of sadness and, a lot of times, despair because they have realized that war was not what John Wayne movies made it.”

With this mention, some of the older vets in the room laughed.

“Today, we take time to thank those who made it back,” Macdonald said, thanking vets for their sacrifice and their pain.

Samuel Romanov of the Army Cadets and Tylon Myers of the Junior ROTC addressed the group, providing a background on the mission of their groups.

Myers said, “Our mission is to build better citizens for America. Sitting on the couch after high school isn’t an option.”

Chiara Ferrante presented a statement from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

“The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 was not marked by the roar of the cannon, rather it was the moment guns were silenced by courage, devotion to duty and a commitment to freedom,” the statement said.

“The men and women we honor on Veterans Day have paid the price for our freedom in times of conflict and they are our shield in times of peace. We honor those who paid the ultimate price.

“We honor those who lived beyond their years of military service but who have since passed on and we honor those who remain missing, that they will never be forgotten and we honor those who are with us today,” the statement said.

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