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This week’s edition!

Laying wreaths at Togus National Cemetery

Out and About

By Rachel Morin

Our seventh year for our annual trek to Togus National Cemetery for Wreaths Across America Day was on Saturday, Dec. 19.

It was a day we observed with many changes due to the Year 2020 with the COVID-19 Virus.

We felt it acutely as our number had dwindled to three due to traveling problems and other virus considerations. We were just as strong and motivated as ever to arrive at Togus to participate in the Sacred Tradition of laying Remembrance Wreaths on the graves of our Veterans.

Patricia Vampatella and Cindy Boyd, Co-Chair of WWA with Joanne Sabourin, members of USM’s Lewiston-Auburn Senior College, drove in separate cars, no carpooling, and met early at the cemetery with Kaye Bouchard, Coordinator for Wreath Laying at Togus. These women have been doing it for years and have the system memorized.

Cindy Boyd, Patricia Vampatella, Joanne Sabourin and Kaye Bouchard wait at the Entrance Gate at Togus National Cemetery for the Hammond Lumber Company truck to arrive loaded with hundreds of boxes of Remembrance Wreaths for the Veterans’ gravesites. (Visitor photo)

Kaye informed us there would be no noontime Ceremony at the Togus flagpole in coordination with the noon Ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery and Veteran cemeteries across the nation and overseas.

Due to Covid restrictions against mass gatherings, there would be no Representatives of Military Branches including Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, POWs and MIAs at the flagpole.

 These Representatives would have laid Remembrance Wreaths around the flagpole. No speeches, no prayers, no singing and no Passing of the Colors. Although in our hearts, we had silent thoughts and prayers for our Veterans.

At 11 am the Hammond Lumber Company Truck was at the main gate of the cemetery to open the back doors as directed by Coordinator Kaye Bouchard to unload the hundreds of boxes of Remembrance Wreaths. This task was done swiftly as always. The Hammond Lumber Company has been a mainstay at Wreaths Across America at Togus forever.

We were heartened to see, as always, a large number of volunteers taking the boxes and stepping aside, to open the boxes and start distributing bunches of wreaths to outstretched waiting arms of volunteers. They set out quickly to their appointed cemetery locations. We noticed everyone wearing masks and were pleased.

Patricia, as always, makes a point to place wreaths on the tombstones of the two Medal of Honor Veterans at Togus – John Preston and David J. Scannell. Because of the heavy snow, she enlisted the help of a Police Officer who was patrolling the cemetery grounds.

The Officer was able to locate John Preston and cleared away the snow for us so we could read his history. Preston was born in Ireland in 1841, enlisted in Boston in the Navy, and served in the Union Navy during the American Civil War at the Battle of Mobile Bay. Preston died May 26, 1885.

A Togus police officer clears the snow covering Medal of Honor John Preston’s gravesite. Born in Ireland in 1841, Preston joined the Navy in Boston and served as a Union Navy Sailor in the American Civil War and received his Medal of Honor for his action in the Battle of Mobile Bay. (Joanne Sabourin photo)

Unable to find Scannell’s grave site, we knew that David J. Scannell was born Mar. 30, 1875 and died May 7, 1923. He was a Pvt in the U.S. Marine Corp and saw action in the Boxer Rebellion in China.

Patricia, ever the teacher, saw a young family at the Preston grave site, and gave an impromptu telling of the story of the two Medals of Honor Recipients, John Preston and David Scannell. The young boys were interested and had questions for the teacher which she was happy to answer.

It was getting late and time to leave. Our customary stopping for lunch along the way home was another custom not observed.

It was a different year as we all have experienced this past year with the virus engulfing our every turn. But we carry on, because we must. And each day, we remind ourselves “This too shall pass.”

A heartwarming scene as Remembrance Wreaths cover the Veterans’ tombstones at Togus National Cemetery. (Joanne Sabourin photo)

What is steadfast in the hearts of all the volunteers: “It is an honor and a privilege to participate each year in the Laying of the Remembrance Wreaths at the gravesites of our Veterans.” We look forward to standing at each gravesite, looking at the name, and saying quietly, “I remember you,” and speaking their full name aloud.

Togus National Cemetery is located in Kennebec County, in the town of Chelsea, ME, on the grounds of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical and Regional Office Center.

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