WINDHAM – It only comes once every century, organizer Col. Bob Akins says, so the Windham veterans are going to make the best of it.

At 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, the Windham Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 are gathering at the Windham Veterans Center behind the Windham Mall for a special ceremony to honor the armistice signed the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918. This year being 2011, there’s a fourth “11” in the mix, making the day to honor those who have served even more significant, Akins said.

“I’m not really into numerology, but this is the first time it’s going to happen and then it won’t happen for another 100 years, so that’s pretty unique,” said Akins, a retired Marine colonel from Raymond who led combat units in Vietnam and now is commander of the Windham VFW Post 10643.

The featured speaker will be Maine Attorney General Bill Schneider, who is a West Point graduate and served in Army Special Forces.

Brig. Gen. Don McCormack, a Windham resident, American Legion Post 148 member, and recently promoted to second in command of the Maine Air National Guard, will introduce Schneider.

In addition, the event at the Windham Veterans Center will feature the Windham Chamber Singers led by Dr. Richard Nickerson, as well as Windham Police Color Guard, who will be joined by Windham Boy Scout Troop 805.

Those who attend will also be able to hear a reading of the winning essay from a fourth-grade writing contest at Manchester Elementary School, the theme of which is: “Why we have no school on Veterans Day.”

Akins is looking forward to the 45-minute ceremony, which will be catered by Windham resident Dinah Aldrich.

“If we don’t have ceremonies like this, there’s no guarantee that future generations will understand the sacrifices that were made,” Akins said.

Akins will be busy next week. In addition to organizing Nov. 11’s public event, he will be speaking to about 250 Manchester Elementary School fourth-grade students on Monday, Nov. 7, at 9:30 a.m.

Akins, whose topic will be “Freedom is not free,” will be joined by a unit of Windham veterans, including Steve SanPedro, the recently installed District 10 commander of the VFW, which includes about a dozen area VFW posts, including Windham’s.

Akins, who has been speaking to fourth-graders at Manchester for more than a decade, is going to use a prop indicating the number of deaths suffered in each of the major wars America has fought.

Similar to his belief that ceremonies are an important way to impart knowledge and respect of military sacrifice to the next generation, Akins is looking forward to sharing with the students on Monday.

“Our generation cannot assume children are going to feel the same way we do regarding patriotism,” he said. “We have to share what we know and how we feel.”

Fourth-grade teacher Debora Luce is also looking forward to Akins’ annual talk.

“He always does a marvelous job, and every year it’s something different, and it’s always super,” said Luce, whose son, Capt. Joel Luce, is an active-duty Air Force pilot.

To coincide with the annual speech by Akins, Luce does her patriotic part, as well, by giving her students a homework assignment in which they are to find and interview a family member who has served in the military. The child then posts their veteran’s name, along with possibly a photo and short biography of their relative, on a star made out of construction paper, which is affixed to a hallway wall in the school. The Veteran Stars Wall, as it is known, is “plastered” with stars after everyone turns them in, Luce says.

“The wall is just about honoring veterans and those who are serving,” said Luce. “It’s also an opportunity for the kids to find out about the veterans in their own family, and some are quite surprised about what they find. And it makes the veterans in their family feel special as well, that someone notices their service is important.”

Students in Deb Luce’s fourth-grade class at Manchester
Elementary School in North Windham have interviewed veterans and
their families and posted stars on a hallway wall in the school in
their honor. The annual tradition is coupled with a Nov. 7 visit by
the commander of the Windham VFW, retired Col. Bob Akins of
Raymond. The public is invited to a Veterans Day ceremony held at
the Windham Veterans Center at 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 11. (Staff
photo by John Balentine)

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