Stephen Betters of Portland and his wife, Sun, right, applaud the Portland Veterans Day parade Sunday. Stephen Betters served in the Army from 1973-1993.
By Gillian Graham
Veterans across the state are being honored with parades, speeches and ceremonies as Maine marks Veterans Day this three-day weekend.
In Portland, hundreds of people lined Congress Street Sunday morning, clapping and cheering as veterans groups, Scout troops and bands marched by. A rediscovered plaque honoring World War II veterans who worked at Pepperell Mill in Biddeford was rededicated at a downtown ceremony Sunday afternoon.
The events were among the observances on the day set aside every year on Nov. 11 to honor all U.S. military veterans.
Portland's parade, organized by the Harold T. Andrews Post 17, concluded at the Portland City Hall steps, where U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Mayor Michael Brennan called on Portlanders to help veterans receive the services and benefits they deserve.
"We need to do a better job for returning veterans," said Brennan.
Veterans said the annual recognition triggers mixed emotions. Standing curbside along the Portland parade route with a contingent from the Maine Veterans for Peace, Doug Rawlings of Chesterville said he remembers his own experience in Vietnam, where he served in the Army.
"It is a mixed bag, actually. I was not proud of my service in Vietnam, but it is appropriate to recognize the sacrifice," said Rawlings.
Rawlings is a founding member of the Veterans for Peace, which was started in Maine in 1985 and now includes 160 chapters in the United States and England.
Stephen Betters of Portland said the day sparks memories for him and his wife, who traveled all over during the 20 years he served as a staff sergeant in corrections in the Army.
"It is part of our life. We both miss it. There is a camaraderie we can't very well emulate in the civilian world," said Betters.
In Biddeford, a crowd gathered outside the Pepperell Mill complex at 100 Main St., where World War II veteran Rene Gobeil helped remove a Vellux blanket, produced at the mill, to reveal the plaque which bears his name along with those of 313 other Pepperell Mill employees who served in World War II.
Commissioned by the mill in 1946, the plaque also includes the names of the 11 killed in action or who died during their time overseas. On Monday, a parade will stop as a police officer hangs a memorial wreath on the plaque.
George "Pete" Lamontagne, who worked in the mill for 37 years, remembers when the plaque hung on the outside of Pepperell Hall before being moved to a different mill building. After he returned from being stationed overseas during the Vietnam War, Lamontagne found himself working alongside some of the 300 veterans listed on the plaque.
When the mill closed in 2010, the plaque was stored in a basement, where Lamontagne later found it partially submerged in water.
"It was a hostile environment for a plaque of that nature. It was in deplorable condition," he said.
After consulting experts on the best way to restore the plaque, Lamontagne spent 41 hours cleaning it by hand with a soft nylon brush and dishwashing liquid. He often found himself cleaning for hours on end, wondering about the experiences of the people listed in the plaque. "It was all about respect for those people whose names are on the plaque," Lamontagne said.
After it was cleaned, employees of Spectrum Signs and Awnings in Biddeford hung it on the side of the mill building across from the intersection of Main and Alfred streets.
Roland Pelletier, a Vietnam veteran from Biddeford whose uncle is listed on the plaque, said he is impressed with Lamontagne's effort to resurrect and display a piece of Biddeford history.
"These people won't be forgotten," Pelletier said. "They fought a great war and they deserve to continue to be recognized."
Jeff Cabral, vice president of the Biddeford Mills Museum board and director of McArthur Library, called the plaque "an important piece of Biddeford's history."
"We look forward to sharing the plaque with everyone in Biddeford again. So many people will find names of parents, grandparents and relatives on the plaque," he said. "This tribute is so important and a real bridge between the past and today."
Claudette Vadnais and three generations of her family turned out to remember her father, Ernest Collard, an artillery soldier who worked in maintenance at the mill, and find his name on the plaque. Vadnais recalled as a girl going to meet her father at the mill on his way home from work.
"It's wonderful, it's great," said Vadnais.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:
Roger Forest, right, of Old Orchard Beach locates the names of relatives listed on the Pepperell Co.’s World War II plaque as his daughter, Mariah Babine, also of Old Orchard Beach, takes a photograph.