On Sept 13, 2015, Justin Cloukey wrote —
My name is Justin Cloukey and I live in Lincoln, Maine. I was the co-coordinator for The Summit Project Comes to Lincoln, welcoming the Honor Case to our area. The event took place on August 7th and was a unique combination of pride and humility, joy and sadness, pain and comfort. Lincoln community members, active and retired servicemembers and Gold Star family members walked side by side through the streets of Lincoln sharing stories of loved ones, emotions and displaying unity to remember Fallen Maine Heroes. As the case indicates, it was my honor to coordinate such an event with so many affectived lives taking part.
Over the past 5 weeks, the case, stones and stories have proudly been on display at Machias Savings Bank’s Lincoln branch. My wife is the branch manager there, hence hosting the Honor Case at the facility. The staff have diligently stood watch, educating those showing interest on a daily basis. My hat goes off to their preparation, dedication and commitment.
This past week I had an incredibly unique opportunity. Emily Leonard, the aunt of my good friend since childhood, was nearing completion of the Appalachian Trail. She started her journey on March 9th, 2015 at Springer Mountain in Georgia. The plan was to summit Mt. Katahdin on September 9th, 2015, 6 months from her start date. My wife and I had been following her blog and discussed how great it would be to meet her at Baxter State Park and join her for the completion of her hike. My friend, Sean, and I coordinated our schedules and planned an overnight with Emily and her husband, Bruce. While making arrangements, my wife suggested I bring the stones of Army Sgt Blair W Emery and Army Sgt Joel A House. This was a great idea because not only did have the personal connections of knowing the families and working with ‘House in the Woods’ organization, but both Emily and Sean knew of the men through their school (Lee Academy). I packed my bags and stones and made my way north.
Sean and I stopped at a local store in Millinocket for a “quick” snack pickup on our way to the park. The man inside noticed the TSP magnet on my Jeep and asked how I was involved. I proceeded to tell him my stories and meeting up with Emily, aka “Black Bear”. Zachman asked to see the stones and I retrieved them from the vehicle. That’s when our quick stop became a time to share. Several more people showed up, some with connections to TSP and some simply interested in the concept. It’s interesting to note that NOBODY made it into the store when we were outside; all waited until we departed before carrying on with their day.
An early start of the Hunt trail proved difficult quickly. With Joel’s stone in my pack and Blair’s in Seans’, we marched forward into the humid wildnerness. I became fatigued and tired much more quickly than anticipated. The fog added denisity to the already heavy air. Both Sean and I realized we were in more trouble because we had the distinct disadvantage of not having 2,000 trail miles belts like our fellow journeywoman. As was the mindset of Joel and Blair, we must go forward, perservere and press on.
A pitstop at the magnificant Katahdin Stream Falls gave our legs a chance to rest as I interviewed Emily about her experienes and expectations for the remainer of the day. It was then I saw the strength of Emily as she took possession of Blair’s stone from Sean. The AT had NOT made her weak, it had made her STRONG. It reminded me very much of the military. Giving strength to the men and women who protect and serve, just as Joel and Blair did.
At the summit, I had an overwhelming rush of emotions that last at least half of the hike down the mountain. I was elated for Emily on her acheivement, thrilled for Sean as this was his first summit of Katahdin and tearful as I attempted to explain the meaning of the stones to on-lookers. I feel my, what seemed to be, lack of understandable words was masked by the tears in my eyes, cracking of my voice and willingness to continue speaking to share their stories.
The end of the day brought a different kind of conversation in the vehicles. Ones of honor, commitment, appreciation and support of our military. I am forever grateful to both our servicemembers and TSP for forever changing how I remember Maine Heroes such as Joel and Blair. I kept reminding myself that sore legs and a tired back are trivial in comparison to what Joel, Blair and so many others have endured and given for my freedom to climb that mountain and live this life. I can only pray that future TSP and Honor Case volunteers can be affected as I have been and wish the UMaine crew and beyond much success as I deliver the Honor Case to them in the following weeks.