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This week’s edition!

Only Steps Forward: Remembering those who served their country, then their community

By Jonathan P. LaBonte

Mayor of Auburn

One hour. Just one hour.

That was how the Mayor of the City of Lewiston, Bob Macdonald, opened his remarks to the hundreds gathered at Veterans Park, overlooking the Androscoggin River, in Lewiston.

A man of few words when I’ve joined him speaking in the community, Mayor Macdonald wasn’t offering an announcement of how long he planned to speak on this Memorial Day. Instead, he was pointing out how such a short period appeared to still be too much for the many residents who could not make time out of their day to take part in the Memorial Day ceremony.

Mayor Macdonald, a Marine who served our country in Vietnam, spoke forcefully about how Memorial Day is not the official start to the summer season. It is a day of remembrance for those who served our country and who were lost in that service.

Having served alongside Mayor Macdonald for six years, I’ve watched him arrive at a number of ribbon cuttings and other events with remarks drafted on city letterhead, likely drafted in part by the very capable Dottie Perham-Whittier. But at any event that recognizes the men and women of our armed forces, I’ve sensed the remarks are always his own and are deeply personal. And the veterans in attendance know it.

There is one aspect of the annual Memorial Day event that I find most moving. While I fully understand the holiday’s establishment following the Civil War to honor the war dead, it is the reading of those veterans from our community that have passed away since the previous Memorial Day that first caught my attention six years and still does to this day.

Back then at my first Memorial Day event as mayor, I sat as the numerous veterans organizations came forward; the American Legion posts, the VFW, the Marine Corps League and many others. As the names were read, I heard my grandfather’s name, Normand Charpentier. It had been six months since he passed away, just a few days after my election.

Since he had such an impact on my growing up here in Auburn, every year when I hear the names of veterans who have passed, I think about their families, their friends and those they likely volunteered with and the type of lasting impact that has had.

And so this year, as I pondered what I could share with those gathered—after all, what can a layperson like me offer to those that have been willing to sacrifice so much more—it was the impact of those veterans we’ve lost that seemed worth sharing in my final remarks as mayor at a Memorial Day event.

In the last month, I’ve attended the memorial services of two Auburn residents, both veterans: Officer Bud Caouette, a Marine with 22 years of service to the Auburn Police Department, and Lt. Col. Mary Story-King, an Army veteran who has served the Civil Air Patrol for decades.

After his service to our country in the armed forces, Officer Caouette then continued a life of service to his family and community. He protected our city on the police force, volunteered at the local little league coaching softball and ran his own small business.

Lt. Col. Story-King, when she found herself back in the community she was raised in, having been a member of the ELHS Class of 1955, continued her commitment to service. She stayed active in the Civil Air Patrol, with a particular focus on connecting youth to careers in aviation, and she helped as a volunteer with the New Auburn Neighborhood Watch, keeping a close eye on your neighbors and monitoring speed on South Main Street.

Bud and Mary certainly had different paths in life, but both first chose to serve their country and then found ways to serve their community.

As their names were read at the ceremony, they joined a long list of men and women from Lewiston-Auburn who have form a solid foundation for what community is here.

The reading of those names will always humble me, especially knowing how easy it should be for us to gather for that one short hour every year to recognize those who gave of themselves for our freedom and to honor those who did return, served our community, and have passed within the last year.

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