David Cote, a Bangor native and Marine Corps major who is stationed in Washington, D.C., has an idea to honor the 46 service members from Maine who have died in the global war on terror. He calls it “The Summit Project.”
If his project goes according to plan, it won’t look like a memorial, but just a pile of rocks similar to the many others that mark the trails leading to Maine’s highest peak, Mount Katahdin.
His plan still needs the approval of Baxter State Park officials, which is unlikely to happen, but right now he is trying to spread the word this Memorial Day in hopes that his vision will be a reality by Memorial Day 2014.
“Every year I count the number of (veterans) I know who have died in combat, and it’s in the dozens now,” Cote said by telephone Monday. “And any time I talk to family members, it’s always the same thing. They say, ‘I don’t want my son or daughter or husband’s service to be forgotten.’ “
He envisions the memorial as an arrangement of 46 stones – each approximately the size of two fists put together – inscribed with the service member’s initials, years of birth and death and service branch insignia.
But he doesn’t want to use stones that are native to Mount Katahdin. This is where Cote’s project will take some effort.
He wants to visit the hometown of each fallen veteran and, with the help of a surviving loved one, use a stone from a place that was significant to that particular veteran.
“I’m thinking of a backyard, a place of worship, a fishing spot, anything that has a specific meaning,” he said.
Once the stones are gathered, Cote wants to enlist a team of hikers to carry the stones in backpacks to the summit. Ideally, he would like to encourage hikers who have a connection to a fallen service member.
Once the memorial is erected, he said, the hike could become an annual Memorial Day event.
Cote already has started the process of reaching out to family members of fallen service members. The response has been positive, he said. He will be in Maine later this week through Memorial Day to meet with families of fallen service members.
Jeffrey Hutchins of Leeds, who lost his son, U.S. Army Cpl. Andrew Hutchins, in November 2010, is among those who have expressed support for Cote’s idea. Andrew Hutchins was serving as a military policeman in Afghanistan and died from wounds he suffered during an insurgent attack. He was just 20 years old and left behind a pregnant wife.
“I think about him all the time,” Jeffrey Hutchins said.
Hutchins already knows where he’ll get his rock from. When Andrew was younger, the two would go fishing every Memorial Day weekend, often at Grand Lake Stream in Washington County. On one of those trips, an eagle swooped down from a tree and flew almost directly over their heads. That moment is something they always remembered, Hutchins said.
“I think I’m going to find a rock from that spot,” he said.
But getting Cote’s memorial approved is by no means assured.
Mount Katahdin, in Piscataquis County, is located within Baxter State Park and is one of the state’s most visited spots. Park Director Jensen Bissell said that when former Gov. Percival Baxter donated the land in nearly 30 installments between 1931 and 1962, he intended the park to belong to the people of Maine.
Baxter also made it clear that he didn’t want the park to be home to memorials, Bissell said.
Cote still can ask for permission to create his memorial, Bissell said, but approval would rest with a three-member authority made up of Maine’s attorney general, the commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and the director of the Maine Forest Service.
If a memorial on Mount Katahdin doesn’t work out, Cote said he’ll look for another option, but he hopes to persuade park officials to approve his plan. He said he likes the symbolism of lifting fallen spirits to the state’s highest peak.
“It will be nothing more than a pile of rocks,” he said.
Cote graduated from Bangor High School in 1997 and enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.
He did a tour in Iraq in 2006 and has completed numerous other noncombat tours for the Marine Corps.
He has made a career in the military and said he has a strong respect for those who choose to serve knowing that it might mean making the ultimate sacrifice.
But Cote said the project is not about him.
The idea for the memorial came from a hike he took on Labor Day last year with a group of friends and former classmates, many of them Navy SEALs. The hike took him up Mount Whitney in California, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. Once they reached the summit, several of the SEALs took rocks from their backpacks that had been inscribed with initials and insignia and placed them in a small pile.
“They were honoring their own,” Cote said. “That’s what I want to do here.”
Maine has one of the largest populations of veterans per capita of any state. Approximately one in six adults has served in the military.
Cote said one of the things that most appeals to him about the memorial project is the idea that a hiker several years from now might stumble upon an engraved rock and wonder why it’s there. He hopes that curiosity would compel the hiker to learn about the stone and what the engraving represents.
“That way, they will never be forgotten,” he said.
More information about “The Summit Project” is online at mainememorial.org.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: