Rotary Club of Boothbay Harbor honors veterans

Posted:  Monday, November 13, 2017 - 4:30pm

The Rotary Club of Boothbay Harbor honored Veterans during the “Service Above Self” dinner gathering at the club on Montgomery Road on Thursday, Nov. 9.

“Those who believe in service above self come together with kindred spirits to honor you and to celebrate your history, your sacrifice, your wisdom that you bring to make this community rich with your participation,” said incoming club president Alice Mutch.

After Mutch's opening address, the room sang “God Bless America” and participated in the pledge of allegiance before moving onto dinner and further mingling. The meals were a choice a beef and rice dish and a stuffed haddock dish. Serving the veterans and Rotarians were students from the Interact Club at Boothbay Region High School.

“Today we come and remember all of those who sacrificed,” Mutch continued while dinner was on its way out. “Today is about remembering your efforts and your belief in peace and living a life based on that belief ... In our own lives, may we each be worthy of that legacy.”

After dinner came a roll call of all the veterans in the room. The roll call spanned from the National Guard and Coast Guard to all branches of the U.S. military and from World War II to Operation Desert Storm.

Ingrid Merrill, one of the Rotarians helping with the food and drink service, read a few of the letters she helped Boothbay Region Elementary School students write in honor of the veterans:

“Dear Veteran, Thank you for fighting for our country.”

“Dear Veteran, Thank you for fighting in the war. Thank you for giving us freedom. Thank you for giving us peace.”

“Dear Veteran, Thank you. How do you carry all those weapons? What is the war like? I want to be a veteran, too... Have a happy Veterans Day.”

“Dear Veterans, Thank you for saving us from fighting in the war. I hope we have less fighting in the future.”

The last letter sparked a roaring round of applause.

Mutch introduced guest speaker Laurie Sidelinger, Honor Flight of Maine's chair of the board of directors, who replaced Francesca Giovannini, program director for the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences. Giovannini, an expert on nuclear armament, was called to Africa at the last minute.

Honor Flight is a nonprofit which arranges trips to Washington, D.C. memorials for veterans. Honor Flight Maine is one of over 130 chapters across the United States and has had 13 trips since 2013.

“I feel like I'm surrounded by royalty — it has been wonderful to hear your stories,” said Sidelinger. “From the first trip's takeoff, 250,000 veterans across the United States have been able to be on an Honor Flight trip and not pay a penny.”

Sidelinger explained many details that go into these weekend trips, from the TSA-friendly boarding process in Portland to breakfast on Saturday morning, to the individual memorials dedicated to branches of the military and fallen soldiers in major wars.

“Every veteran that goes on an Honor Flight trip has a guardian,” said Sidelinger. “This guardian is to wait on them hand and foot. Make sure that they are safe, make sure that they enjoy the trip. It can be a family member that can go as your guardian. We have a wide variety of people throughout the state that are just waiting to be a guardian for someone that doesn't necessarily have a family member to accompany them.”

World War II and Korean War veterans have been taking priority for the trips, because time is running out to be able to bring them to the memorials to have this experience, Sidelinger said.

“I've found for the last three or four years that it is a healing process for many of our veterans, that it's a wonderful time of camaraderie, of sharing stories. I'm noticing that more and more, the children are becoming a major part of what's a highlight for our veterans when they're on the trip, when they're in the airports, when they're at the memorials. The schools are playing a huge role in that.”

Sidelinger recalled a recent trip in which a group of young high school students from Georgia joined the World War II and Korean War veterans at lunch to ask questions and to thank them for their service.

“They truly had an interest. That's encouraging in a world so full of negativity. These memorials are a strong longstanding forever reminder that your service and sacrifice is not in vain and will not be forgotten.

“The look in the eye of a World War II veteran, when they're approaching their memorial — it's amazing. They can see that this strong, strong structure is going to be a lasting reminder of their service and sacrifice.”