BRUNSWICK – Sailors clad in bright white uniforms joined the parade of antique cars, scouts, marching bands and local dignitaries for perhaps the last time in the annual Brunswick-Topsham Memorial Day festivities.

As the Brunswick Naval Air Station approaches its closure, only a couple hundred military personnel remain based there. The airfield closed in January and the last of the patrol squadrons – VP-26 – are now stationed out of Jacksonville, Fla., with the other P-3 Orion squadrons that had once been based in Maine.

About three dozen sailors marched in the parade this year. Their commanding officer, Capt. William Fitzgerald, participated in the wreath ceremonies at Monument Place by Topsham Town Hall, on the Frank J. Wood Bridge and the foot of the mall in Brunswick.

From his spot on the bridge linking the towns, Glen Berger of Brunswick recalled how the base used to have a more visible presence in the parade – with perhaps three times as many sailors as this year. He wondered not just about what the parade would look like next year but the community generally.

“I think people here are very resilient. I think we will survive. I also think it will be painful for awhile,” said Berger, a former sailor whose civilian communications job at the base ended Sunday.

Mark Anthony was stationed at the base for 17 years before retiring as chief petty officer in charge of aviation ordnance. He’s already seeing how the base’s dwindling numbers – some 5,200 people worked there a decade ago – are reflected in the loss of volunteers in community programs and in attendance at his church. Anthony wonders whether there will be much for him in the area in the future.

“It’s just that the community has changed,” he said.

This year’s celebration honored World War II veterans. One of those veterans, Pfc. Ernest Jones of Brunswick, served as the grand marshal. Jones’s Army service included seven battles and he was awarded medals that include six Battle Stars, the French Croix de Guerre and the Purple Heart.

In remarks delivered at the Brunswick mall, Fitzgerald thanked Jones for his service. Fitzgerald also spoke of the heroism of Jones’s generation – the 16.5 million Americans who served in World War II. Of those, he noted, 400,000 gave their lives.

“Imagine that, that’s about one-third the entire population of Maine,” he said.

Fitzgerald, the last commander of the naval air station, said this Memorial Day may mark the final time base sailors participate in the Brunswick-Topsham tradition. But, he said, the communities and the sailors – wherever they may be next – will continue to remember the fallen.

That was a given for Chester “Bing” Dean, 90-year-old World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific with the 11th Airborne Division. The Bowdoinham resident had staked out a spot in Topsham well before the parade passed by him.

“I come here to honor those who didn’t make it over from there – those who didn’t make it over here,” he said. “Not for me. For those.”

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]