“Be a man of principle. Fight for what you believe in. Keep your word. Live with integrity. Be brave. Believe in something bigger than yourself. Serve your country. Teach. Mentor. Give something back to society. Lead from the front. Conquer your fears. Be a good friend. Be humble and be self-confident. Appreciate your friends and family. Be a leader and not a follower. Be valorous on the field of battle. Take responsibility for your actions.” Major Douglas Alexander Zembiec, USMC — “The Lion of Fallujah”
My inspiration for this project came from two main sources —
First — Mainers are veterans. Veterans comprise nearly 15 percent of our state’s population ranking among the very highest in the US. Put another way, nearly 1 in 7 Maine adults is a veteran. Maine’s patriotism and commitment to service in our Armed Forces is nothing short of extraordinary. We must match with equal devotion, our commitment to them. They served us, we must now serve them by remembering them. I hope this memorial can help tell the stories of a generation of Maine veterans who did not return home but whose service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Second — With an elevation of 14,505, Mt. Whitney is the tallest summit in the contiguous United States. I was invited by happenstance to hike that peak over Labor Day weekend 2012. I coincidentally walked into NPS’s Trident Room during a planning meeting with some Navy SEALs. Those trip leaders were friends of mine, classmates from USNA and NPS. They had an extra spot, and just like that I was on the trip. Starting at midnight, we summited Whitney around sunrise and unbeknownst to anyone else, the SEAL hikers had carried within their packs 10 lb rocks to honor their own fallen brothers, a new rock for each fallen SEAL within the past 12 months.
The one way distance to the summit was over 11 miles, and we ascended over 6,100 feet in elevation change from Whitney Portal. The SEALs placed the stones in a secret crevice on the Whitney summit and I barely had enough time to snap a photo. That image remained burned in my mind. Here is a picture of that secluded spot on the summit of Mt. Whitney.
Ever since that hike, I’ve been inspired to honor our own fallen Maine heroes with memorial stones but to also make The Summit Project a living memorial to help build and bolster community. Most of all I wanted to allow anyone to participate in TSP, and honor the fallen through meaningful action, community involvement and physical exertion. TSP is truly a living memorial where we carry their stones for a trek, but we carry their stories for a lifetime. Our surviving family members know their loved ones are not forgotten.
Our mission has been successful but is never fully complete. TSP has been successful in ensuring that Maine heroes are NOT forgotten and we will not rest until we can carry on the work of our fallen heroes — towards creating a safer, sounder, more just America.
Thank you to EVERYONE who has been, and continues to be part of this living memorial. Thank you for bringing TSP to others. Finally, a big thank you to CK for pulling me on that hike and remaining one my best friends. Who knows where the next two years will take TSP. MHANF.
In summary — As hikers continue to summit Mt. Katahdin for the decades to come, I hope that they learn about this living memorial. I hope their curiosity will lead them to learn the stories of service members who they may have never met, who fought a war they might not know, whose courage, integrity, character and dedication can continue to inspire and influence generations to come. In that moment, on a mountain in Maine, we will know for sure that the legacies of our fallen Maine heroes has endured and their ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten.