JAY — Bertrand Castonguay and Adrian Caron, who were part of an all-Maine brigade stationed in Germany during the Korean War, reconnected recently for the first time in 68 years.

Bertrand Castonguay of Jay, left, and Adrian Wells of Westbrook recently reunited 68 years after serving together in the U.S. Army. They are holding a picture of their brigade in Germany, made up of other men from Maine with whom they hope to reconnect.

Castonguay grew up on the family farm in Canton. He was 20 years old when he was drafted and had never been further than South Paris and Sabattus, he said.

“When I left for the Army, I went to Fort Devens (in Massachusetts),” he said. “I thought it was pretty odd to be away from home for the first time.”

Castonguay spent 14 months in Germany and eight months at Camp Edwards in Massachusetts. He and Caron spoke French with each other and went to church together while in Germany.

Castonguay is a great uncle to Tina Cote. She lived with Castonguay and his wife for a year while she was growing up. Since then, she has remained like a daughter to Castonguay and stays with him part of each week.

When Cote was recently home sick from her job as a Veterans Administration nurse in Augusta, she started looking at pictures and asked if Castonguay had ever tried to find Caron. Castonguay said he had tried once but could not find him. She looked in the telephone book and found an Adrian Caron living in Westbrook.

“I said, ‘I am going to try (the number)’,” she said. “At first, he thought it was a prank call. Once my uncle got on the phone, he knew him, said he kept a picture of my uncle all that time and wondered where they had all gone.”

Bertran Castonguay of Jay, left, and Adrian Cote of Westbrook recently reunited 68 years after serving together in the U.S. Army in Germany.

Castonguay, his son, Cote, and her husband met recently with Adrian Caron, 92, and his wife.

“There was a lot of talking going on,” Cote said. “Sixty-eight years later, it’s just crazy.

“Their faces! When they were talking, you could see. It was so cute. Of course, I cried. They were talking a lot in French, too.”

Castonguay said, “We talked about our families, so many different things going on.”

Castonguay retired from the James River paper mill. His wife died 2 1/2 years ago, after 60 years of marriage.

Caron stayed in the Army Reserves for more than 30 years, later retiring from Central Maine Power Co. He and his wife now work for the Maine Turnpike Authority, collecting tolls at booths.

Cote said it was a funny thing that led to the reunion.

“For 30 plus years, the Carons have been going Florida for the winter,” she said. “They didn’t go this year for health reasons. He would have been gone when I called. We probably wouldn’t have gotten through.”

Castonguay hopes to find the other men from his brigade. A picture has their names and most of the towns where they were from then on the back. They are:

  • Merle Bridgham, Gorham
  • Jan Markowski
  • Harvey Boynton, Brownfield
  • John Coyne, Portland
  • Adrian Caron, Biddeford
  • Herbert Barker, East Stoneham

This all-Maine brigade served in Germany during the Korean War. Bertrand Castonguay, kneeling at left, and Adrian Caron, kneeling at right, reunited recently. They hope to find other members of the brigade.

“I didn’t know Jan (Markowski) too much. Would see them every day at mess hall, stuff like that,” Castonguay said. “When we’d eat, they gave us half a slice of bread, toast. Some of the guys didn’t eat it. They all took it and gave it to me. I had too many toasts.”

Castonguay said Bridgham was about the fastest typist they had. The pair hitchhiked home together when they got out of the service.

“Coming home, a guy dropped us off,” Castonguay said. “It was dark. A big truck stopped and (the driver) said: ‘You know you guys aren’t supposed to do that. You’re right in the middle of nowhere here.’ He picked us up, drove us to Boston, fixed us up on another truck that brought us right here to Portland.”

Castonguay said he did not like hitchhiking and would never do it again.

Cote said her uncle and Caron both like large-print word-search puzzles and watching “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

“Both have their faith in common,” Cote said. “It is important to them.”

Castonguay spoke of a cousin, who was an Air Force lieutenant.

“She went over there with her two kids,” he said. “We went to see the castles. I had more fun with her two kids in the back than going to see the castles.”

Castonguay was one of 12 siblings. The first was stillborn and the last one died when she was 4.

“Of the 10, none of us drank or smoke,” he said. “My father used to like that at weddings, stuff like that. He got sick at 52, didn’t work too much after that.

“I worked quite a bit on the farm with him. Guess it didn’t hurt me too much.”

Castonguay said he did not like going in the Army. He wanted to stay home and help his family on the farm.

“We were poor but didn’t know it,” he said. “We had food, a place to sleep, good parents.”

Castonguay’s wife went to the mill with a fresh hot meal every day while he was working. She was one of the last two women to do that, he said.

“They really loved, respected each other,” Cote said. “I never heard them argue. Theirs was a true love story. It was hard when he could no longer care for her.”

Castonguay said: “We had a good life. We were all happy.”

Cote said her uncle planted a garden last year and had another he maintained at his son’s house. He still makes his own bread and visits regularly with his six sisters, all of whom live in the area.

“It’s good for him to stay active,” she said. “I talk to him two to three times a day. He looked forward to meeting Adrian Caron. It gave him something to do. They plan to meet again, this time in Wells.”

 

 

 

 


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