AUGUSTA — World War II veteran Leroy Peasley served on Iwo Jima, guarded one president and spoke ahead of another. Neal Caron never saw combat during his Navy stint.

Even so, the men from two generations found an audience for their writing Saturday at the Maine Veterans Creative Arts Festival at the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus, put on by the veterans hospital and the Maine American Legion Auxiliary.

Peasley, of Rockland, who turns 90 on Sunday, read two poems inspired by his service. In the first, he recounted standing beside a railing, burying a fellow Marine at sea near Iwo Jima, site of one of the bloodiest battles in the war’s Pacific theater.

“I don’t have that many more years, but to be able to come up and tell my story, I can thank the Auxiliary, these angels of mercy, because they’ve taken us veterans who have problems after our service and showed us that they care,” he said afterward.

Caron, 53, of Oakland, read a very different poem, recounting the toll his abusive father took on him and his mother. The Navy was his escape from that violent home in Clinton, he said. “Boot camp was easier than my home life,” he said.

The show could send the work of more than 30 local first-place winners to national judges, said Elizabeth Marrone, a Togus recreation therapist and the show’s coordinator. The national festival will be run from late October to early November in Milwaukee. The categories run the gamut from ceramics to watercolor to knitting to songs, poems and humor.


Some veterans said they probably wouldn’t perform in public if not for the show, including Army veteran Rick Dorsky, 67, of Levant, who did a Down East humor routine for the first time, working the jokes he learned on construction sites and has told to friends and relatives into a stand-up act.

Asked whether he was nervous, he responded in character: “Like a whore in church.”

Topsham bluegrass musician Beth Revels went onstage and forgot many of the words to “Blarney Roses,” the first of four songs she performed Saturday.

It wasn’t stage fright, just a combination of high sugar and age, the 53-year-old Navy veteran said. She said she has been performing since she was a child and “started so young that I didn’t know I was supposed to be afraid.”

But Revels, who goes by “Mama Beth” onstage, redeemed herself during the rest of the show. Her service intersected with music: She said in the 1980s, she was one of the only female buglers in the color guard nationally, playing taps at veterans’ funerals.

Most of them served in World War I and II, she said, but occasionally she’d find herself playing for younger soldiers. That was the hardest. “Try to play with a lump in your throat,” she said.


The emcee, humorist Gary Crocker of West Gardiner, a Vietnam War veteran, hosted the show for his second straight year: “Vets are the best people on the planet,” he said. “That’s why I’m doing it.”

After Iwo Jima, Peasley guarded President Franklin Roosevelt at what is now Camp David during a meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In 2010, he led a Portland Expo crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance before President Obama delivered a speech on health care.

Backstage on Saturday, he was about to go out to read his second poem when a show staffer realized he didn’t have the text with him.

Crocker asked whether he needed it. Peasley said he didn’t, as long as he said it slowly. “Any speed you like,” Crocker said.

The self-described “old Marine” laughed. Then he went out and recited his “Beat the Drum Slowly” from memory, without a hitch.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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