AUGUSTA — A century after women were first allowed to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, Maine women who count themselves among the few and the proud may soon have their own organization.

On Saturday, about a dozen women who served in the Marines gathered at Margaritas in Augusta to share stories and learn about the resources available to them. They came from various corners of the state, including Portland, Bangor and Rumford.

The event was partly organized by the Women Marines Association, a national organization that has several active chapters in the Northeast but none in Maine.

A Rumford woman who served in the Marines said she is spearheading an effort to start a chapter for Maine women.

“Women need to know we’re out there for them,” said Joy Bordeau, 55, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina during her service in the mid-1980s. She spent that time computerizing supply systems and serving as a “chaser” – an escort for service members who were accused of breaking the law and had to appear in military court.

Bordeau, who also is involved with the American Legion, particularly hopes the group can be a resource for female veterans who have trouble finding housing, health care or other essential services.

Given that those women were Marines – a group traditionally recognized for its steely grit – they may be unaccustomed to asking for help, Bordeau said.

There were 110 homeless veterans in Maine at the start of 2018, according to the Maine Homeless Veteran Action Committee, a coalition of state and nonprofit groups.

While attendance at Saturday’s event was lower than organizers had hoped, it also gave service members of different generations a chance to bond about their shared experiences.

In her eight years of active duty, Mary Swanson, 26, rose to the rank of sergeant while working as an ammunition technician and administrator for three battalions in North Carolina, California and Japan.

She first enlisted at age 17 and now is studying biology at the University of Southern Maine while working in the college’s office of veterans services.

She’s also the president of the Husky Veterans Student Group, a chapter of a national organization, and said she hopes “to bridge the gap” between younger and older veterans.

As groups like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars struggle to recruit younger members, it may take a fresh approach to reach them.

“It’s getting into the community and getting my face out there,” Swanson said of the get-together Saturday.

At the same time, older veterans can also benefit from those sort of interactions. After growing up in Mississippi, Yvonne Baldwin, 54, joined the Marines. She served from 1982 to 1993, working as a cook and eventually becoming a sergeant before settling in Bangor.

When her husband died in 2016, Baldwin entered a depression. But early this year, she started working at the Lowe’s home improvement store in Bangor after hearing that they were recruiting veterans.

She did so with the encouragement of another veteran, Joy Asuncion, who also helped organize Saturday’s get-together. Since then, Baldwin has enjoyed reconnecting with a group she largely lost touch with when her service ended.

“I thanked Joy for getting me off my butt and out of my depression,” Baldwin said. “I’m a widow, and I need to get up and get involved.”

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker


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