Ralph Sylvester, 98, a World War II veteran from Auburn, and his friend, Arlene Whichard, are greeted Friday by Crystal Guerrette of Honor Flight Maine at a Veterans Day event at Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Perhaps no one among the hundreds who attended Friday’s solemn ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park has observed more Veterans Day services than Ralph Sylvester of Auburn.

Each one is special, he said.

The 98-year-old veteran of World War II was on Omaha Beach on D-Day, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and built bridges over the Elbe River that enabled the American and British armies from the west and Soviet Union forces in the east to first link up near the end of the war in 1945.

“Today brings back a lot of memories of all the others that were killed,” Sylvester said. “About 20% of our company got killed during the Battle of the Bulge where 3,500 anti-tank mines were unbeknownst to us.”

Sylvester, a private in the 295th Combat Engineers, added that the day brings back memories of his time in England training and practicing for the D-Day invasion and recalls meeting Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Omar Bradley and British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery during the planning stages.

Al Landry, Korean War veteran, and Dan Libby, Vietnam veteran, stand Friday for the national anthem during a Veterans Day event at Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

On a warm overcast November day, Sylvester and hundreds of others Friday celebrated the service of all veterans who served in the military, during times of war and peace, for their sacrifices.


A new granite bench was dedicated in memory of Bert Dutil, a well-known veteran activist and community leader who died in June 2022.

“This was his wish,” Pat Crowell, his cousin, said. “He had the information all written up for me.”

A veteran of the Korean War, Dutil was pulled off the front line when his commanders learned that he could speak French. As the war waged, Dutil served as an interpreter during the peace talks in Panmunjom, North Korea. Crowell said Dutil witnessed the signing of the armistice in 1953.

In addition to his picture, the bench honoring Dutil also lists his many veterans endeavors and civic outreach, including being a founder and past chairman of the L&A Veterans Council, the group that established Veterans Memorial Park and organized Friday’s ceremony. He was also involved in countless Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts throughout the Twin Cities.

His biggest impact may have been his 30-year involvement with the Pine Tree Warriors Drum and Bugle Corps.

“He helped keep us kids off the street, is what I keep saying,” said Arlene Levesque, a family friend who was one of those kids Dutil helped when she was 14 years old. “The Pine Tree Warriors — it was more than just a family within a family. He made families with kids who did not have parents. He kept us busy. He was a very caring person.”


James Thibideau plays “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes Friday at a Veterans Day event at Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston. On the right are Gold Star Mothers Bethel Shields and Joyce Richmond, right. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The Veterans Day ceremony began with a review led by the Junior Air Force ROTC cadets from Lewiston High School and the Civil Air Patrol cadets from Auburn. Flag bearers from various American Legion and VFW posts followed, as well as the Gold Star Mothers, while James Thibodeau performed the service songs on the bagpipes.

The park’s 34th memorial marker was unveiled and features the Space Force insignia. The stone lists the names of 153 local veterans.

Keynote speaker Jack Flowers, an author from Auburn, spoke of his time in Vietnam serving as a tunnel rat, a specialized unit that would descend into the maze of underground tunnels on a search and destroy mission. Flowers said he went on 97 harrowing missions as the leader of the 1st Infantry Unit of tunnel rats.

“I like to say that the only reason that I didn’t die in Vietnam is because they didn’t kill me,” Flowers said. “They were trying to get me every day.”

He wrote about his experiences as a tunnel rat in the “Rat Six.”

Jack Flowers, author of “Rat Six,” based on his career as a commander of the Vietnam War tunnel rats, speaks Friday at a Veterans Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston. “The only reason I didn’t die in Vietnam is because they didn’t kill me,” Flowers said. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

He began his talk by reciting the poem “In Flanders Field,” written by a Canadian soldier from World War I. He said he learned to recite the poem in elementary school and holds special meaning to him and his family, who all served in the military.


The loudest ovation during the ceremony came when Flowers spoke of his admiration of the noncommissioned officers.

“One thing we all learn as veterans is that it is all about your buddies,” Flowers said. “And, as an officer, you also understand that it is always about the NCOs, who run the joint.”

He credited his family for helping him reintegrate into society.

“When I got out of the service, one thing that was very heartening to me is the proud nature of my family, so I’m sure all of you and your families have pride for you for what you have done,” Flowers said,

Remarks were also given by Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline, Betty Ann Sheats, who was representing the city of Auburn, and Beth Staples, who read a letter from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

“I am honored to stand here with you and thank all of our veterans who have risked their lives to keep America safe and free. We are grateful to you and your families,” Sheline said.

Mike Adkins of Monmouth points to his name on a new veterans stone that was unveiled Friday at a Veterans Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

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