Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By SUSAN McMILLAN Kennebec Journal
(Continued from page 1)
Maranacook High School sophomore Sydney Green stands beside the headstone of Sgt. George C. Arsenault, shown in inset.
Arsenault died on Aug. 15, 1944, the first day of the Allied invasion of southern France, known as Operation Dragoon. A fellow soldier told his family that he was killed by a land mine. He was 18 years old.
Leo Arsenault said his mother was offered the choice to have him buried in France or bring his body home to Rumford. The children persuaded her to have him buried in a military cemetery because there was a better chance his service would be remembered and his grave maintained for generations to come.
Arsenault said he doesn't remember much about his brother, except that he was very religious.
"It's kind of hard for me because we were all real young when we left," he said. "I was only 17 when I went in (to the Marines), and he was 17. I didn't get to know him at all, hardly. He worked and went to school, and I worked and went to school."
Several of the Arsenault siblings, including one sister who was a nurse, served in the military between World War II and the Vietnam War, representing every branch except the Coast Guard. Leo Arsenault was a Marine during World War II and the Korean War.
During their April vacation, Green and a group of Maranacook students visited the Rhone American Cemetery, where they learned about some of the troops buried there and read excerpts of George Arsenault's letters aloud.
"For that to become real was really powerful, and hearing other stories from other soldiers and their families was really amazing as well," Green said. "Hearing that this actual person went through all of these things that I've heard about in books and in stories was incredible."
Gower said he reminded the students that many of the soldiers were just about their own age, and they sacrificed their opportunity to go to college and raise families to make the students' lives possible today.
"It seems as though for many folks in France, it's almost a bigger deal in many ways than it might be here in America, at least for people Sydney's age," Gower said. "Maybe the connection is stronger because it was their homeland, and the cemeteries are there, some of the scars are still there."
Green and Arsenault will be recognized at the Regional School Unit 38 school board meeting this week.
Arsenault said he's hopeful that a couple of his siblings will be able to attend as well. In a way, the Maranacook project proves their point about having their brother buried in a military cemetery.
"We were really pleased with the fact that somebody took the time to visit his grave," he said.
Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at: