Friday, November 18, 2016

Community packs Veteran Center to celebrate local service members - By Michelle Libby

The Windham Veterans Center was standing room only on Friday, November 11, Veteran’s Day. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10643 hosted the event to recognize service men and women from around the world and in the local area.

“Fewer than 10 percent of Americans can claim the title Veteran. Far less than 1 percent of our US population is currently defending our Nation,” they said on the program for the event. The audience full of veterans was flanked by the Windham Chamber Singers and Boy Scout Troop 805, who participated in the ceremony. The Chamber Singers sung the National Anthem and the Boy Scouts presented the flags. 

“Veterans Day is an important day when the country honors all the military who wore the uniform. This is a great day when the veterans and the community come together and we are thankful we live in an area where we get so much community support for our event,” said Windham VFW post commander Willie Goodman. 

The keynote speaker was 88-year-old Korean War Veteran Jerry Black. He celebrated his 61st wedding anniversary this year with his wife Mildred. His life story is worthy of more than a few lines in a speech, but he did his best to give the audience a flavor of his adventurous and exciting life.
Some of the highlights started with his Scout leader being drafted, thus ending his Scouting career. 
Everything was recycled for the war effort and everyone scoured the countryside for items that could be used. He went barefoot for four years because his family couldn’t afford shoes. He saved his metal toothpaste tubes to recycle for a new one, the old one going toward the war effort. Victory Gardens were important in war time. People put them in their front yards. With no driver’s license, he purchased a red, model T fire engine. 

“I saw Mrs. Pratt (after Mr. Pratt had passed away) and told her, ‘for $35 I could take that home tomorrow’.” She agreed and he paid cash for it. He still owns the engine, but it is now at the Owls Head Transportation Museum. He used the engine along with five of his buddies to help put out 47 fires. Every time the bell rang, they ran for the engine. 

He joined the Navy out of high school and was put on ship number 821, the USS Johnston out of Rhode Island. He chose the Navy because, “I’ll have a warm bunk, hot meal and floating all over the ocean,” he told the crowd. He got license plates for all of his cars, RV, trailer and motorcycle with the number 821. He told his wife he used that number because it was the date they were married.
He took an Honor Flight last July. “I’m just a little guy from Maine, putting a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” he said. 

His wonder at the world and his down to earth attitude brought many to tears. He was given an Eagle head cane for his service by Norm Devonshire from Distinctive Carvings. He carved the cane as a part of an ongoing program by Maine Woodcarvers. 

Devonshire also carved the Fallen Warrior Memorial also called the Soldier’s Cross. The wooden statue took 250 hours over 2 years to carve. He came down with cancer while working on it, he said. “It was something I wanted to do for several years.”  
Bill Diamond, Jerry Black and Willie Goodman

Community members came to honor the veterans. “It’s important for me to stay in touch with the veterans,” said Sue Plourde, who worked for Hannaford for 30 years and did a lot of work as they were building the center. 

Milo Jackson came from Limington. He was honoring his family members who were in the military. He purchased pavers for some of them, which were dedicated at the ceremony on Friday. “It’s kind of nice they do this for people,” Jackson said. 

Windham High School senior James Manette was announced as the winner of the Voice of Democracy contest. His speech was moving and inspirational. He is hoping to attend the US Air Force Academy in the fall. He attended a summer academy there where he started to learn about military ethics. 

“No one gets left behind. You are part of something bigger than yourself,” he quoted from his essay.
The veterans wanted to thank KFC for the donation of 400 pieces of chicken, Buck’s Naked BBQ for the potato salad and cole slaw, Sam’s Club and BJ’s for the donation of cups and plates and Sam’s Club for the cake. Kelly and Richard Sebeftyen donated Kettle Korn and Kanaan LaPierre from Westbrook donated special desserts.

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