BANGOR — Not everyone can climb Mount Katahdin, the best-known way to participate in The Summit Project. But on Friday, May 1, eighth-graders from Helen S. Dunn School in Greenbush will have the honor of escorting engraved stones in memory of 13 of Maine’s fallen heroes during a ceremony beginning a three-week display of the stones at Cole Land Transportation Museum at 405 Perry Road.
The 13 soldiers, sailors and Marines were from Atkinson, Bangor, Belgrade, Frankfort, Greenville, Newport, Orono, Palmyra, Richmond and Waterville.
The youngsters represent Dunn School’s older classes coming to the museum for an annual visit incorporating a tour of its 200-plus vehicles and a session in the Veterans Interview Program, enabling them to talk in small groups with a veteran from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War or the current Global War on Terror.
The veterans’ message that “Freedom Is Not Free” certainly will be brought home by the students’ participation in the 9 a.m. Summit Project program, which is open to the public.
The stones chosen for the Cole Museum display, which will be open to the public 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily May 1-23, memorialize these men who died in service to their country since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001:
- Sgt. Kevin B. Balduf, 27, U.S. Marine Corps, Richmond, May 15, 2011.
- Capt. John R. “Jay” Brainard III, 26, U.S. Army, Newport and Atkinson, May 28, 2012.
- Lt. Cmdr. Robert E. Clukey, 33, U.S. Navy, Orono, Nov. 3, 2002.
- Staff Sgt. Dale J. Kelly Jr., 48, U.S. Army, Richmond, May 6, 2006.
- Maj. Samuel C. Leigh, 35, U.S. Marine Corps, Belgrade, June 30, 2009.
- Master Sgt. Ryan C.C. Love, U.S. Marine Corps, Frankfort, July 19, 2012.
- Sgt. Brett E. Pelotte, 35, U.S. Army, Waterville, Aug. 19, 2003.
- Staff Sgt. Brandon M. Silk, 25, U.S. Army, Orono, June 21, 2010.
- Spc. Wade A. Slack, 21, U.S. Army, Waterville, May 6, 2012.
- Pvt. Dustin R.F. Small, 19, U.S. Army, Palmyra, June 30, 2009.
- Lt. Jerry R. Smith, 26, U.S. Navy, Greenville, Aug. 15, 2007.
- Staff Sgt. David M. Veverka, 25, U.S. Army, University of Maine, Orono, June 21, 2010.
- Spc. Christopher M. Wilson, 24, U.S. Army, Bangor, March 29, 2007.
The Summit Project was founded in 2013 by Maj. David Cote, a Bangor High School graduate and Marine who has served in Iraq and is stationed at the Pentagon in Washington.
He came up with the idea of honoring Mainers killed in service since 9-11 after taking part in a hike up Mount Whitney in California with Navy Seals who carried stones memorializing their fallen comrades, then left the stones in a hidden crevice on the mountain.
Cote decided that such a project could be a living memorial in Maine if the stones were kept available for subsequent treks up Katahdin and other mountains, and also allotted for displays of defined periods in places where everyone could see them.
The Veterans Administration Medical Center at Togus hosted a display of Summit Project stones that began on Veterans Day last year. Sixty stones honoring Mainers are kept In Portland and parceled out for displays or treks throughout the year.
“Nearly one in seven Maine adults is a Maine veteran,” said Cote. “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 and taking care of our living veterans.
“I hope this memorial can help tell the stories of a generation of brave Maine veterans who did not return home, but whose service and sacrifice must never be forgotten.”
“The display of Summit Project stones is a great way to open the Cole Museum’s 25th anniversary season,” said Jim Neville, museum director of operations and a retired 20-year war veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. “Although it’s hard to believe, the children that come to our museum have lived their entire life up to this point with their nation at war. Unfortunately, a majority of the children and perhaps some adults do not understand the sacrifice that service members and their families make. The summit stones poignantly yet simply illustrate that sacrifice.”
With the museum’s goals of history and education, Neville wanted to host the display when school is in session and school groups are visiting the museum daily. “First and foremost we are an educational facility,” he said. “There is no better way to educate children as to the cost of war and the gravity of it than for them to see something as tangible as those stones sitting solemnly in their case.”
Museum founder Galen Cole said that having the Summit Project stones on display was a special opportunity to educate young people about the cost of freedom — as do the Maine World War II Memorial and Vietnam Memorial on museum grounds and a memorial wall in the museum’s 5th Armored Division Room listing 975 of Cole’s World War II comrades who died in Europe during that war.
After the display at the Cole Museum ends at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 23, the stones will join other Summit Project stones in being carried in a Summit Project memorial hike up Mount Katahdin. Jonathan Kelley of Presque Isle will carry stones in memory of Army Sgt. Joel House and Marine Sgt. James Zimmerman.