LEWISTON — Their caps and patches told their story. Under one roof in the Colisee Sunday evening sat generations of veterans, whose collective resume includes places like Normandy, Kaesong and Kandahar — gathered for the second annual salute to veterans.

The creators for the event, Henri St. Pierre and Arthur Obie envisioned a tribute to Maine’s veterans modeled after a similar show in Branson, Missouri. As the show began running over time, Obie said, “We took on some extra stuff this year but we’re learning.”

The Freeport Flag Ladies lined up in the lobby, greeting veterans with a smile, a handshake, and of course, a flag.

Ray Gilliam of the Veterans of the Armed Forces Motor Club stood before two red flags, greeting vets with permanent markers to sign the flags.

“We have these KIA flags that we have veterans sign,” Gilliam said, “and we present it to the families of the Gold Star Mothers.” Gilliam said it’s a way of honoring the families of those killed in action.

“Even though their son or daughter might not be here anymore, somebody needs to remember that there still is somebody behind —and that’s what we do.”

Gilliam, who spent five years active duty in the Navy said this is the fourth year his organization has been presenting flags to families.

Anne LePage was present, chatting with and getting hugs from many of the veterans. LePage said her and Governor Paul LePage have been traveling the state, making it to as many Veteran’s Day observances as possible.

While Anne LePage was attending the tribute in Lewiston, she said the governor was attending the unveiling of a new memorial in New Gloucester.

“We were in Yarmouth yesterday morning, Houlton last night, Lewiston today and tomorrow I go to Millinocket so there’s a lot,” LePage said.

The tribute began with the Maine Public Safety and Kora Highland pipe bands, escorting color guards around the Colisee, playing music associated with each branch of the service carrying flags. As the flags passes, veterans and active duty service personnel rendered hand salutes.

A short film was played, depicting children coming to grips with veteran’s sacrifices —ending with veterans, young and old, turning to family members and telling them they are what they fought for.

At the conclusion of the film, 87-year-old John Holvestadt of Auburn, wearing his 88th Infantry World War II cap, turned and saluted a group of four young Coast Guardsmen sitting a couple rows behind him.

Holvestadt, who fought in Italy, said his mother saw his six brothers go off to war and was not about to let him go as well.

Not to be left behind, Holvestadt said he forged his birth date on his baptismal certificate and enlisted. While in basic training, Holvestadt’s mother wrote President Roosevelt and had her son tossed out the gate until he turned 18.

Even though it was only an overnight wait until his birthday at that point, Holvestadt said he now has two honorable discharges from the Army.

Chuck Nolan, Vietnam veteran and head of the Maine Greeters in Bangor wore his First Cavalry cap as he addressed the crowd.

“We have a very simple mission,” Nolan said, “it’s something that we all should do anytime you see a service member.”

“All we do is smile, look them in the eye and shake their hand — that’s as simple as it gets,” he said.

“But you just cannot believe the impact that it has on these service people,” Nolan said.

“In the past 13 years, we’ve met 7,000 flights,” Nolan said, and although he said his organization’s role may not be as vital as that of the vets, “there’s almost 1.5 million (service members) that do know us.”

Nolan said that in the room the Bangor International Airport lets them use for free, there is a wall filled with challenge coins — coins usually presented by superiors in the military as a commendation.

“I think we have the largest display, perhaps, in the United States,” Nolan said. He said the Maine Troop Greeters also have about 65 cell phones that any service member can use through Verizon and U.S. Cellular, free of charge. Laptops, cell phones and snacks all await service members greeted by Nolan’s group.

Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald spoke about the poor treatment of returning Vietnam veterans, crediting them with creating and sustaining the welcoming atmosphere current returning service members enjoy.

Macdonald warned that if the current generation is complacent, veterans again may become forgotten and mistreated.

“Politicians act on numbers,” Macdonald said of the declining numbers in organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Slipping membership from these organizations results in the loss of power and credibility which these organizations currently enjoy. 

“They have a duty,” Macdonald said of young returning veterans, “to step up and embrace the banner being tossed to them by older veterans. If not, they will be left alone and possibly without any advocates to preserve their rights. If you want to preserve what veterans before you fought for and gave, join one of the service groups.”

Brigadier General Gerald Bolduc of the Maine Air National Guard also saluted Vietnam veterans for their contributions following the hostility they saw returning home.

“You fought a very unpopular war and arrived home to bitterness and resentment for doing the mission you were called upon to do by the nation,” Bolduc said, “you Vietnam vets did nothing wrong — you served with dignity, honor and conducted yourselves professionally.”

“We who wear the uniform cannot fathom what it must have been like to be treated in such a manner as you were when returning home,” Bolduc continued, “most, if not all of the public support current members of the military receive is because of you, the Vietnam War vets.”

Bolduc pointed to the Bangor greeters, lead by a Vietnam vet. “They have said they’re not going to let this happen again —and they haven’t.”

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