The American Legion in Maine, with its affiliate organizations, is building a POW/MIA memorial at state headquarters in Winslow to honor and remember the Mainers who are still unaccounted for from past wars and conflicts.
In June, at the annual convention of the organizations, the state officers, American Legion Cmdr. Randall Kluj, American Legion Auxiliary President Ann Durost, Sons of the American Legion Cmdr. Ron Marr, and American Legion Riders State Director Kaye Bouchard, joined together in the POW/MIA memorial project.
The organizations hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at state headquarters Friday, Sept. 15. The third Friday in September is POW/MIA National Recognition Day.
When the project is complete, each prisoner of war or missing in action service member from Maine will have a brick at the memorial listing their name, branch of service, and the relevant war or conflict. When a POW or MIA is brought home, his or her brick will be marked to indicate they have come home.
Anyone can sponsor a brick for the memorial through an American Legion post, American Legion Auxiliary unit, Sons of the American Legion squadron, or American Legion Riders chapter in Maine. The cost of each brick is $50.
The emotional groundbreaking ceremony opened with a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the national anthem sung by Boothbay Region High School senior Jackie McLoon. Jackie McLoon is the granddaughter of Mary Jane McLoon, a member of the Damariscotta American Legion Auxiliary unit and a past department president and national executive committeewoman.
When the Legion organizations began the project in June, there were 480 Mainers unaccounted for, Durost said. As of Sept. 14, there are now 479. The remains of U.S. Marine Corps Pvt. Alberic Blanchette, of Caribou, returned home in September. Blanchette had been unaccounted for since his service in World War II 74 years ago.
Of the 479 names still on the list, six are from Lincoln County. All six served in World War II.
U.S. Air Force Sgt. Malcolm Carter, of Boothbay Harbor, has been missing since Dec. 1, 1943, lost in Burma.
U.S. Navy Seaman Stanley Seavey, of Boothbay Harbor, has been missing since April 24, 1945, lost in the North Atlantic.
U.S. Army Sgt. Adelbert Barter, of Lincoln County, has been missing since Oct. 24, 1944, lost in the China Seas. Barter has a Cenotaph at the Dresden Mills Cemetery.
U.S. Army Air Force Sgt. Harold Giles, of Boothbay Harbor, has been missing since Oct. 4, 1943, lost in the North Sea.
U.S. Army Pfc. Leonard Robbins, of Lincoln County, has been missing since May 31, 1942, lost in the Philippines.
U.S. Navy Fire Controlman 2nd Class Francis Grant, of Wiscasset, has been missing since Jan. 3, 1944, lost in the Atlantic Ocean.
Memorial bricks have been sponsored for Carter, Grant, Robbins, and Seavey. As of Sept. 15, 77 bricks have been sponsored.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, representatives of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King spoke briefly. American Legion Auxiliary National President Diane Duscheck, of Wisconsin, also spoke at the event.
Among the highlights of the ceremony was an explanation of the POW/MIA flag by Kluj. The flag, designed by World War II pilot Newt Heisly, is black and white with a silhouette of a gaunt prisoner of war with his head bent, a strand of barbed wire, and a guard tower in the background. Its purpose is to serve as a reminder to Americans of the service members whose fates have not been accounted for, Kluj said.
Durost said the U.S. Department of Defense lists more than 82,000 Americans missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and other conflicts.
Those missing from Maine include 423 from World War II, 45 from Korea, and 11 from Vietnam.
“This memorial will be to honor the brave individuals from Maine who gave up their freedoms fighting for ours,” Durost said. “It will be built on our campus as a lasting tribute and reminder of the sacrifice they made so that we can live in freedom.
“It is imperative that we, as a nation, always remember and never forget these individuals. They are not just a symbol, they are men and women, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors. They are heroes and they are closer than you think. Some of their family members are here today, mingled amongst you, still grieving because of the sacrifice their loved ones made for us.”
The memorial is expected to be completed by the third Friday of September 2018, to provide a place for the family members of prisoners of war and service members missing in action to visit and honor their loved ones.