PORTLAND – At the end of the Eastern Promenade, the stone pillars are inscribed with words that evoke the heroism of Maj. Charles J. Loring: “Heart,” “Presence,” “Integrity” and “Spirit.”
Each winter, the family of the Medal of Honor recipient has placed wreaths on those four pillars, and a fifth bearing the airman’s name and the word “Remembering.”
Last week, the family learned that someone had stolen the wreaths from the park memorializing the man who sacrificed his life to destroy an enemy gun encampment during the Korean War.
“I said, ‘How low can people be?’” said 81-year-old Paul Loring of Portland, the youngest of the late airman’s siblings. “You’re angry at first, and then you say, ‘That’s how life is.’ People don’t have respect for something like that.”
He said, “I tell people it’s named after my brother – Charles J. Loring Memorial Park – but it’s for all veterans.”
Bill Donnini, the husband of a niece of Loring’s, first noticed one wreath missing as he drove by the park. He thought the wind might have blown it down, but then discovered that all five of the 12-inch wreaths were missing from the pillars.
Paul Loring later searched the nearby slope, in case someone had thrown the wreaths down there, but didn’t find them.
Two other wreaths, displayed near a stone holding a plaque with Charles Loring’s image, were undisturbed.
One day earlier this month, Paul Loring and Donnini started to put up this year’s wreaths. They had to stop before they could finish because of cold, windy weather. Donnini and his wife, Roberta, returned to finish the job later.
The family has tended to the memorial since the park’s dedication in 2000. They have regular cleanups in the spring and fall, plant flowers for Memorial Day, hold a ceremony there with Amvets Post 25 on Veterans Day, and place the wreaths for Christmastime.
When members of the Loring family visit Portland, they visit the memorial.
Charles Loring’s body was never recovered from North Korea, and the family treats the spot overlooking Back Cove as his final resting place, said Roberta Donnini, who lives in South Portland.
“It’s pulled the family together for a cause. His memory is very important to us,” she said.
Other items placed at the memorial had disappeared in the past, but the wreaths had never been taken, said Paul Loring.
Charles Loring was the eldest of eight siblings who grew up on nearby Anderson Street. A graduate of Cheverus High School, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942.
He flew 55 combat missions during World War II before being taken as a prisoner of war in Belgium.
He returned to combat during the Korean War.
On Nov. 22, 1952, on his 51st mission, he pressed toward enemy gun positions despite intense and accurate ground fire.
After his F-80 Shooting Star was hit, he changed course and deliberately crashed into gun emplacements on a ridge, destroying the threat they posed to United Nations ground troops.
Loring was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award.
Paul Loring said he understands that most of the community respects the memorial.
In a letter to the Portland Press Herald, he wrote that he hopes whoever took the wreaths noticed the words on the pillars.
“That somehow, in some way,” he wrote, “they will feel a change take place in them as a result.”
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: