Sgt. Mag. Mgn. Diane Hunt bows her head in prayer Friday evening during an AUSA awards ceremony at the Rhumb Line Resort in Kennebunkport.

Sgt. Mag. Mgn. Diane Hunt bows her head in prayer Friday evening during an AUSA awards ceremony at the Rhumb Line Resort in Kennebunkport.

KENNEBUNKPORT — One could be forgiven for assuming that a gathering of U.S. military veterans on Sept. 11 would be a solemn affair, filled with clenchedjawed remembrances of the 2001 morning that changed everything. And there was some of that.

But during the Association of the United States Army’s annual lobster bake on Friday, smiles were the order of the evening. After all, it’s not every day that a veteran receives individual recognition for their accomplishments.

It’s what the AUSA does every year: Congregate at the Rhumb Line Resort in Kennebunkport, welcome a few dignitaries and hand out awards during a ceremony before breaking bread over lobster.

All in all, said Brig. Gen. Gerry Bolduc, that’s a pretty nice feeling for a soldier to have.

“It means everything to them,” said Bolduc, who has been the state’s Acting Adjutant General since May. “To get recognized is quite an accomplishment. We’re generally a humble group – we don’t seek out attention – but something like this, it means a lot.”

The annual gathering is a tradition which dates back at least two decades, and as they’ve done for several years now, Governor Paul LePage and his wife First Lady Ann LePage made it a point to attend, lending their support not just to the Army but to the AUSA itself – one of the Army’s most impassioned advocacy groups.

One of the key organizers of the event is Cindi Piacitelli, president of the AUSA Joshua Chamberlain Maine Chapter. Piacitelli explained that, while individual awards were still earmarked for deserving soldiers, there would be no Person of the Year in 2015 – for the simple reason of the gathering’s date. Though the AUSA didn’t want the evening to be too serious in tone, she and other organizers felt it would be more appropriate to use a Sept. 11 event to acknowledge all soldiers and Army personnel, rather than just a single standout.

“The whole goal of this was to remember the soldiers we’ve lost, but also the soldiers who are left still protecting us,” she said.

Retired Col. Edward Graham said gatherings like the lobster bake are a great way not just to acknowledge service, but to touch base with contacts in the various veteran’s organizations that pepper the northeast.

“This is very important,” said Graham, “just to come back every year and say, ‘I’m still here, you’re still here, and it’s good to see you. Now what can we do for you that isn’t being done?’”

The AUSA – according to its mission statement – is a private, educational nonprofit that supports all aspects of the U.S. Army: active duty, National Guard, Reserve, retirees, government civilians, Wounded Warriors and family members.

LePage paid tribute to that legacy during the awards ceremony, while also giving a nod to the day’s meaning.

“Nine-eleven changed us forever, in some good ways and in some bad ways,” said LePage. “We have the best and strongest military in the world,” to which the room bust out in applause.

Present during the ceremony was Maine artist Ken Hendricksen, who specializes in painting Civil War and patriotic imagery. His work lined one wall of the Rhumb Line dining space, running the gamut from portraits of Joshua Chamberlain – the AUSA chapter’s namesake, and a Maine Civil War hero – to a portrait of former President George W. Bush created shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The artwork served as the backdrop to a number of speeches, but it was perhaps Piacitelli’s remarks that summed up the event’s meaning most succinctly.

“We love our troops,” she said. “(They) are what makes us wake up every morning.”

— Assistant Editor Jeff Lagasse be contacted at 282- 1535, ext. 319 or [email protected]

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