The town of Bristol will break ground on the new Veterans Memorial River Walk at Ellingwood Park in Bristol Mills on Thursday, Nov. 11, following three years of fundraising and preparation.
The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. with light refreshments, courtesy of 1812 Farm, at the Ellingwood Information Center. Attendees will then gather by the Ellingwood Park kayak launch for a Pledge of Allegiance, a few words from the organizers, and a moment of silence followed by the official groundbreaking, tours, and a tree dedication honoring Army Sgt. John Clifton Steer.
Sgt. Steer of Round Pond was killed on Oct. 31, 1967, in South Vietnam when his vehicle struck a land mine. He was born in Damariscotta on May 22, 1947, to Harold and Martha Little Steer. He attended Bristol Consolidated School, Sanborn Seminary in Kingston, N.H., and the Essex Agricultural and Technical Institute in Hathorne, Mass.
Steer joined the Army in November 1966, and traveled to Vietnam the following November.
He is buried at the Walpole Cemetery. In the summer of 1968, the Cadette Girl Scout Troop No. 540 planted a sugar maple in his memory. In 1973, Brownie Troop 672 placed a marker at the base of the tree.
On Nov. 11, 2021, the people of Bristol will continue the tradition of remembering Steer by replacing the now-failing sugar maple.
Remembering Steer and those who placed themselves in harm’s way for their country is part of the purpose of the walk, which will stretch along the riverbank from the kayak launch to Benner Road.
The Veterans Memorial Advisory Committee and the effort to create a river walk came together three years ago, following a call for such a memorial from Sandra Lane, Bristol Parks commissioner and Veterans Memorial Committee chair.
Lane’s husband, Russell Lane, passed away in 2017. He was a Korean War veteran and later tended lighthouses on the Maine coast with the Coast Guard before he moved to Pemaquid to work as a lobsterman.
After her husband passed away, Lane directed all of the money she received for his service to future veterans memorial efforts in Bristol and helped start the advisory committee.
“I just adore the military,” Lane said by phone. “It’s just something I enjoy. Even this Sunday three of us went and took the flags off [sic] the graves down at the New Harbor (cemetery) to help out. My favorite thing of all is veterans.”
Andrea Cox Perley, a member of the committee, said that she and the rest of the committee envision the river walk memorial as something that will grow over time with contributions from the public. The committee has already received two anchors and a cannon, and other residents have expressed interest in donating a bench and a chestnut tree.
“There are a lot of people in the community who want to dedicate (something) to the cause or in memory of somebody, and we felt this is what would happen; once we got it started, the community could really have a part in building this,” Perley said.
Perley envisions gardens, signs, flags, and monuments, and various other additions that the committee will be able to direct their efforts towards once the initial walk is complete. Members hope to use the outdoor space for future fundraisers and veteran appreciation events.
“We’ll be raising money for this ‘til the end of time,” Perley said.
Peter Anderson, a stonemason and owner of Natural Concepts landscaping, volunteered to manage the project and will be directing volunteers, as well as donated materials and funds to build the path.
“He’s already done a tremendous amount of work for free for us. The generosity that has come out of this town has been huge,” Perley said.
With about $9,000 raised and $13,000 in materials donated to the project, the memorial advisory committee is only $3,000 away from its goal of $25,000 and fully funding phase 1 of the river walk project.
While the committee will eventually reach its initial fundraising goal, it will continue to accept donations to maintain and continue to improve the memorial.
To donate online go to bristolmaine.org/veterans-memorial-committee, or bring checks to the Bristol Town Office or the Ellingwood Information Center.