Showing posts with label D.C.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label D.C.. Show all posts

Friday, April 5, 2024

Windham resident part of Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Washington

By Ed Pierce

March 21 is a day that Malinda “Mindy” McKinney of Windham will never forget as she was part of a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Washington, D.C. recognizing her late father for his service during World War II as a member of the secretive U.S. Ghost Army.

Malinda 'Mindy' McKinney of Windham, left, joins her
sisters, Helen and Anne, in accepting the Congressional 
Gold Medal on March 21 in Washington, D.C. on behalf
of their late father, U.S. Army Captain William Skelton, 
who served in the 'Ghost Army' during World War II.
McKinney’s father, Captain William Skelton, served with the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, 603rd Camouflage Engineers Unit and McKinney and her sisters were given the Congressional Gold Medal, the oldest and highest civilian award in the United States awarded by Congress, for the work of their father. To date fewer than 200 Americans have been awarded this distinction and it was presented to the sisters by U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson.

The medal presentation ceremony wraps up a nearly 20-year effort by members and volunteers of the Ghost Army Legacy Project to raise awareness and win recognition for the little-known Army units that played a unique but unheralded part in the Allied victory of World War II.

“Ghost Army” soldiers represent nearly every state in the nation, including eight from Maine, and the units were handpicked, top secret units containing some of America’s most promising artists, engineers, and signals professionals. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, composed of a mere 1,100 soldiers, impersonated up to two divisions of 30,000 men physically, sonically, and radiographically to the enemy.

The strategy of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was so effective, they held a position in the middle of the line for eight days during combat, allowing U.S. General George S. Patton to throw all the fighting forces at German defenses. Captured German officers and documents related to the operations of both units demonstrated that the Germans were utterly convinced by the unit’s deceptions and redeployed units and assets in response.

The efforts and contributions of the “Ghost Army” were classified for more than 40 years, until 1996, and therefore have not received formal recognition. Without the “Ghost Army,” an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 American soldiers and 10,000 German soldiers would not have made it home alive during World War II.

McKinney, a retired Raymond Elementary School secretary, said that her father served in the Ghost Army as a member of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers Unit of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops Unit and was previously awarded the Bronze Star by the Army for Meritorious Service with five battle engagements for his valor and distinction in World War II.

Following the war, Skelton studied chemical engineering at Carnegie-Melon Institute of Technology and had a 33-year career working for DuPont Corporation in Delaware, and in Kinston and Wilmington, North Carolina. He passed away in 2011 and was predeceased by his wife, Jessica Matthews Skelton, in 2007.

In February 2022, U.S Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts announced that bipartisan and bicameral legislation had been approved to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the top-secret U.S. Army units that served in World War II.

Collins attended the March 21 “Ghost Army” medal presentation and said this recognition is long overdue.

“The ingenuity and contributions of the ‘Ghost Army’ were classified for decades without its members receiving the recognition that they deserved. It was not until 1996 that their heroic actions were declassified, and the American public began to learn the full scope of their contributions to achieving our Allied victory,” said Senator Collins. “I was so proud to co-sponsor in the Senate with Senator Markey, the bipartisan, bicameral legislation to honor these unsung heroes with Congress's highest civilian award. And today, finally, today, Congress will bestow this long-awaited honor on these deserving veterans.”

Because of the secretive nature of his work with the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, 603rd Camouflage Engineers Unit, McKinney said her father never divulged with his family his military activities until the unit had been declassified 50 years after World War II ended. After that, McKinney said that Skelton shared many fascinating stories with his family about his service and the activities of the Ghost Army and he would be very proud of this honor if he were still alive.

“Receiving this Highest Honor, The Congressional Gold Medal, that one can receive is very humbling,” McKinney said. <

Friday, March 15, 2024

Windham Christian Academy student wins Maine 'Voice of Democracy' contest

By Ed Pierce

For the second consecutive year, a student from Windham Christian Academy has captured the state “Voice of Democracy” contest sponsored by the VFW and qualified to compete in the national “Voice of Democracy” finals in Washington, D.C. This year’s winner is Anna Seavey, 18, a WCA senior, and for her winning audio essay, she earned a $2,000 scholarship for college from the national competition.

Anna Seavey of Windham Christian Academy, center, receives
a $2,000 college scholarship during the national 2024 VFW
'Voice of Democracy' contest in Washington, D.C. She was
presented the award by the VFW National Commander Duane
Sarmiento, right, and VFW Auxiliary President Carla
Martinez on March 6. COURTESY PHOTO 
Seavey plans to use the scholarship to attend Southern Maine Community College this fall and plans to study early childhood education. She hopes to eventually teach at a daycare or preschool after college.

She said she was inspired to enter the local Voice of Democracy contest sponsored by VFW Post 10643 last fall after knowing several previous students at Windham Christian Academy who have won the contest in the past few years, including Hunter Edson of Windham, who won both the local and state contests last year.

“I was excited by the possible opportunities this contest offered including scholarships, a trip to Washington D.C., and meeting people involved with the VFW,” Seavey said.

Her 3- to 5-minute audio essay was based upon this year’s theme “What Are the Greatest Attributes of Our Democracy” and she said when she first heard about the topic, she was very excited to write about it.

The annual Voice of Democracy competition was established by the VFW in 1947 and encourages students to examine America’s history, along with their own experiences in modern American society and provides students with a unique opportunity to express their own thoughts about democracy and patriotism with a chance to win college scholarship money. The national first-place scholarship prize is $35,000 and each year more than 25,000 students from across America submit audio essays for the competition.

According to Seavey, she was amazed when she learned that she had won the Maine Voice of Democracy.

“At first, I couldn't even believe that they read my name,” she said. “I was immediately filled with joy and excitement when I realized I would be going forward to the national level. I felt incredibly honored that I would get the opportunity to represent my state.”

The daughter of Michael and Maureen Seavey of Standish, Anna is the youngest of four children and says her family was excited to find out about her winning the state-level competition, the accompanying college scholarship and the all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. to compete against other state winners.

“They were all incredibly supportive and encouraging to me as I prepared to go to Washington D.C. My parents were able to watch the parade of winners live, and my siblings watched from home on television. I am so thankful for the support they gave me.”

The national Voice of Democracy competition was held in Washington from March 2 through March 6 and Seavey’s parents accompanied her to the event.

“I learned so much from this trip. The most important thing that I learned is to not be afraid to try new things,” Seavey said. “Submitting my essay to this contest opened the door for an incredible, life-changing experience that I will never forget. I was also able to learn incredible things about our nation's history by visiting memorials in Washington D.C.”

In addition to the $2,000 scholarship she earned at the national level, Seavey received a $750 scholarship for winning the Maine Voice of Democracy and she also earned a $200 check from the Windham VFW for her win at the local level last November.

She said she’s considering using the scholarships she received for further education after she graduates from Southern Maine Community College.

VFW Post 10643 Commander Willie Goodman said he is impressed by how well Seavey represented Windham in the state and national competitions and very proud of what she has been able to accomplish.

“This year our VFW Post 10643 was thrilled to have chosen Anna Seavey to represent our post and move on to the district level. Anna then won at that level which meant she moved on to compete at the state level,” Goodman said. “We were ecstatic that Anna won, which meant she would be representing the State of Maine in a four-day all expenses paid trip for her and her parents to Washington, D.C.”

Goodman did not attend the festivities in Washington earlier this month, but said he watched it online and was impressed watching Anna march in with Maine’s VFW State Commander.

“Anna is a delightful young woman with an engaging personality and I’m sure this was an experience of a lifetime for her and her parents,” Goodman said. “They must be so proud of Anna, the person she is, the essay she wrote and in her delivery. Clearly, Anna is on her way to an extremely bright future and our post thanks her for her participation in our annual essay contest and allowing us to be a part of this incredible journey.” <

Friday, January 6, 2023

‘Wreaths Across America’ a transformative experience for WPD officers

By Lorraine Glowczak

After five years volunteering as police escorts for the Wreaths Across America (WAA) caravan, providing safety at intersections as it traveled through Maine, Windham Police Department (WPD) Detective Eugene Gallant and Sergeant Jason Burke received an opportunity this year to participate in the entire six-day convoy that travels to Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington D.C.

Windham Police DCetective Eugene Gallant and Sgt. Jason
Burke helped to lay 247,000 wreaths on the graves of fallen
soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery as part of the annual
Wreaths Across America event. They experienced many
meaningful moments on the trip and say it made a
significant impact on their lives. SUBMITTED PHOTO   
In its 30th year, this annual 730-mile one-way procession begins at the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine where the wreaths are made and then delivered the first week of December. Upon arrival, Det. Gallant and Sgt. Burke helped to lay 247,000 wreaths, transported in 18 semi-trailers, onto the graves of fallen soldiers. They both agreed that laying wreaths and saluting fallen soldiers were very humbling experiences.

“Gene and I thought it was a great way to honor our soldiers and the people who sacrificed their lives for our country and the freedoms offered here,” Burke said. “Since we began escorting for WAA, it became a bucket list item for us to travel to Arlington to show our appreciation, so when the opportunity arose to be a part of this convoy, we jumped at it.”

Gallant and Burke also participated in wreath-laying ceremonies at the William H. Taft Memorial, JFK Memorial, RFK Memorial, USS Maine Memorial, the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They also paid their respects by rendering a salute at the gravesite of fellow WPD officer Justin Hudnor’s grandfather, a World War II veteran. Although there were many significant events that took place during the six-day period, the sergeant and detective shared two meaningful experiences.

“During the trip to D.C., we made many stops along the way at various New England towns,” Gallant said. “At one stop at a War Memorial in New Jersey, a woman approached us and asked us to transport a stone to Arlington. The stone had the name of her son engraved on it. He was stationed in Afghanistan and was on a convoy detail when he was hit and killed by an IED [improvised explosive device]. She asked us to take him. One of the truckers [delivering the wreaths] was a veteran who had a tour in Afghanistan and asked if he could take her son to D.C. with him. Of course, we gave the stone to the trucker to travel with a fellow comrade. This is an experience that Jason and I definitely did not expect. This made a great impact on us.”

Another significant experience happened while placing 184 wreaths at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, a memorial for those who did not survive the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks. Burke said that a Pentagon Police lieutenant explained the monument and what the layout meant.

“The direction of the benches signifies the direction the plane flew into the building,” Burke said. “The names on the benches are laid out so that if you are looking toward the sky, it represents those on the plane. The names on the ground are of people in the building. It is a very powerful and meaningful memorial that Gene and I would encourage all to attend.”

The WAA tradition began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company had a surplus of 5,000 wreaths, and the owner of the company, Morrill Worcester recalled a powerful experience of his own. He knew immediately what he had to do with the extra wreaths.

The story began when Worcester was 12 years old in 1963. He won a trip to Washington D.C. while working as a delivery boy for the Bangor Daily News.

“His first trip to our nation’s capital was one he would never forget, and Arlington National Cemetery made an especially indelible impression on him,” the Worcester Wreath Company website stated. “This experience followed him throughout his life and successful career, reminding him that his good fortune was due, in large part, to the values of this nation and the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”

So, in 1992, Worcester remembered his boyhood experience at Arlington, and he realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s veterans. “With the aid of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.”

The tradition continued, and in 2007, Wreaths Across America became a non-profit organization.

Although U.S. veterans are honored and remembered on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Sgt. Gallant and Det. Burke understand more profoundly the appreciation the veterans deserve daily.

“We like to encourage others to honor and remember those who have sacrificed so that we may have the freedom to live the life of our dreams,” Gallant said.

For more information about the Worcester Wreath Company, one can peruse the company’s website at To learn more about Wreath Across America go to<

Friday, April 15, 2022

Foreign exchange students participate in Civic Education Week in D.C.

Windham High School foreign exchange students
Ledion 'Ledi' Hoti of Kosovo, left, and Nour Humaid
of Palestine were participants in the Civic Education
Week workshop in Washington, D.C. from March 28
By Lorraine Glowczak

Ledion Hoti from Kosovo and Nour Humaid of Palestine are two of eight exchange students at Windham High School and are both seniors who will graduate with the Class of 2022 in June. They were recently selected among many exchange students from across the U.S. to participate in the Civic Education Week workshop held in Washington, D.C. from March 28 to April 1.

Hoti and Humaid are a part of the YES (Youth Exchange and Study) program of which Greenheart Exchange acts as the local host. Hoti explained the competitive selection process to attend CEW, a workshop sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (BECA).

“Every year all students in the [YES] program are given the chance to apply to the workshop in Washington D.C.,” Hoti said. “Applicants have to write an essay about a socio-economic problem in our country and talk about how we would fix it. Nour and I each wrote an essay, submitted it, and were lucky enough to be two of the winners from across the entire U.S. who were invited to spend a week in D.C. and attend the leadership-focused workshops.”

Humaid explained that problems discussed during the week included women empowerment, proving that women are capable of doing many things and should be equal to men, providing examples of successful women and their impact on society. 

“We also discussed the problem of plastic bags that we use back in my home and how we should encourage people not to use them,” Humaid said. “Suggested solutions included offering other options like paper bags or recycling these plastic bags instead of just burning them.”


The week’s event included attending seminars, meeting employees from BECA, engaging in projects, as well as meeting congressional staff. Seminars included media literacy, leadership skills and the importance of youth exchange programs.

Humaid and Hoti, who have been in Windham since last August, shared their experiences living in the Sebago Lakes Region area.

“I have learned many things about Maine, like the weather; if you don’t like the weather, just wait, and it will change,” Humaid said. “I also got to try Maine’s seafood which is one of the best foods I have ever tried. The people in Maine are so nice, and they keep greeting each other all the time.” 

Humaid said that he chose to become an exchange student to learn about the United States culture, to see how people live their lives, to make friendships and to improve his English language skills.

Hoti said that the idea of spending a year in the U.S. seemed like a fantastic opportunity for him. 

“I considered the benefits that I would gain here academically to be much bigger than if I stayed home,” Hoti said. “Moreover, I’d have to say that the thought of spending one year in a somewhat independent way in a totally foreign country I had never visited before excited me. I always saw this chance as an opportunity to grow as a person and prepare for my future years of study.”

Since his arrival, Hoti has found that Mainers are some of the politest people he’s ever met.

“The folks in Windham welcomed me right away and gave me a sense of feeling that I somehow belonged here all along, which definitely made the settling in process more comfortable for me. I found out that I had already been similar to Mainers in lots of ways. I like the forest, I like lakes, I enjoy outdoor activities, and most importantly obviously, I’ve always worn flannels. When it comes to food, I’ve tried lobster which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve tried smores and Needhams, and I’ve pretty much liked everything.”

Although both students enjoy their time in Maine, they also miss a few things from their home countries.

“One thing I’ve surely missed from home is simply speaking Albanian regularly,” Hoti said. “The people back home are kind, patriotic and overall friendly. You can easily make friends and start conversations with pretty much everybody. I’d say that in a lot of ways we’re similar to the U.S. That comes as a result of always having had very close relations diplomatically, and we’re one of, if not the most westernized country of the region. When I think about food, I think about my mom’s cooking, pite, fli, pasul, words that I’m sure hold no meaning to anybody here, but certainly take me back home. I’ve been lucky enough to find pite which I found out is known as spanakopita here in America, and I’ve actually made pasul (a white beans stew) for my host family.” 

Humaid said that Palestine is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

“It has great weather during the winter,” Humaid said. “People in my country are so nice. Usually, neighbors and family members come and visit each other on a regular basis. Palestine has almost totally different food from here; we eat a lot of rice compared to the amount of rice we eat in Maine, and we use a lot of ketchup.”

Upon graduation from WHS, both students aspire to continue their education either here in the U.S. or in Europe, Humaid in Computer Science and Hoti to study Business and Economics. Once completed, they plan to return to their home countries.

“I intend to eventually go back home and fulfill the fundamental aim of exchange programs, which is to apply everything you’ve learned abroad,” Hoti said.

To learn more about the local foreign exchange program or become a host family for the 2022-23 school year, contact Kathy Hansen, Regional Director of Greenheart Exchange at <