WATERBORO – Students at Massabesic High School in Waterboro gathered in hushed respect Thursday as members of the school’s Navy Junior ROTC program honored local veterans and the men and women who have died in defense of the country.

The hourlong ceremony was held in anticipation of Memorial Day, celebrated Monday, when the nation pays its respects to those who have served in the military and those who have died in that service.

Hundreds of students listened to presentations on the importance of Memorial Day and what it represents and gave a standing ovation to the veterans who attended the event held in the school gymnasium.

Throughout Maine and the nation, the enthusiasm over the unofficial start to summer this weekend will be complemented by countless ceremonies marking the sacrifices made to defend the country and its people.

“I’m just proud of the people who are in the service now and the people who didn’t make it back, and I’m proud to be an American,” said Bob Wright, past commander of the Harold T. Andrews American Legion Post 17, which organizes Portland’s annual Memorial Day parade.

In Waterboro, Cadet Shawna Alexander gave a special presentation on former Massabesic High School student Lt. Sean D. Krueger, who died last year when his Coast Guard helicopter crashed en route to Alaska. Alexander noted that Krueger’s dedication and commitment evolved while walking the same hallways, playing the same sports and under the guidance of the same teachers as the students gathered for Thursday’s assembly

In Portland on Monday, the Rev. Bill Doughty, chaplain with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6859, will serve as grand marshal of a 10:30 a.m. parade from Longfellow Square to Monument Square, where a statue honoring Civil War veterans dominates the plaza. Memorial Day evolved from an event in 1865 following the end of the Civil War in which freed slaves honored dead Union soldiers by disinterring them from a mass grave and burying them again in individual graves with appropriate respect and ceremony.

Monday’s parade will include a military flyover, police and fire department color guards, marching bands from Deering and Portland high schools, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Wright said the involvement of young people in Memorial Day observances is encouraging.

“I love to see the high school kids, even the Cub Scouts, in the parades, because you know they’re learning and they want to participate,” Wright said.

The parade wiill be followed by a wreath-laying ceremony and speeches by civic leaders at 11 a.m.

The Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program at Massabesic High, which put on Thursday’s event, involves about 100 students from Massabesic, Bonny Eagle and Sanford high schools. It is a citizenship program that includes courses on history, government and naval sciences, says the group’s naval science instructor, Peter Jordan.

“We want to encourage our students to be good citizens for America,” he said. “Everything is built around leadership because these are the future leaders of America.”

The NJROTC cadets have a full day ahead Monday. They will participate in wreath-laying ceremonies in Sanford, and then a group will march in that town’s parade at 9 a.m. while another group marches in the Alfred parade at the same time. Cadets then plan to march in the Limerick parade.

“The Limerick parade is our biggest parade for attendance,” Jordan said. “For a little bitty town in the middle of nowhere in Maine, you wouldn’t believe the people that come out of the woodwork for that parade.”

After that, the cadets head to Lyman where — after refueling on burgers and soft drinks — they will march in yet another parade.

While most students enrolled in the program don’t go directly into the military or officer programs like ROTC in college, three of them will. Two have been accepted at ROTC programs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Norwich University and one has been accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy, Jordan said.

That student, Uriah Eilinger, told the assembly that he decided to pursue a career in the Navy because he not only wants to protect people, as members of his family do as firefighters, but he also wants to protect his countrymen’s future.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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