The Wreaths Across America Convoy Visits Thornton Academy

SACO – It is easy to say that throughout our lives, education often comes to us in many non-traditional forms, and sometimes those experiences will have a dramatic effect on the way we see the world and the way we live our lives.

That happened today when the caravan of trucks and people from Wreaths Across America stopped in Saco for an assembly at Thornton Academy. Volunteers who are connected with the program are on their way to Arlington National Cemetery to place a simple holiday wreath on every grave. Because of Thornton’s participation in their program for the last few years, they agreed to stop today and take part in a school-wide assembly.

The gymnasium was filled with students, faculty, veterans, and several other guests, and as someone who has witnessed more than a few student assemblies, I hoped the students fully understood the solemnity of the presentation they were about to see. Like any parent (or teacher), I hoped they would behave.

The administrators for the school announced the beginning of the program, and as bagpipers and a ceremonial color guard began to march across the gym floor, the room became unusually quiet. It remained that way for the next hour or so.

About a week ago, I spoke to my five classes of seniors about the program and told them I’d like to do a class project connected to the idea of writing about veterans. We decided to visit the Heroes Wall at 11 Morin Street in Biddeford and write about some of the military faces and stories that are present on the wall.

After working on their writing for more than a week, one of my students, Meagan Huard, agreed to read her essay at the assembly. She had never spoken in front of so many people before, and to be honest, she was a bit nervous. But she did a great job, and I am proud of her and all of my students who wrote about the Heroes Wall in Biddeford. Here is a copy of the essay she read during our assembly.

Meagan Huard – Reflections about the Heroes Wall in Biddeford

Writing Prompt From Class

The Heroes Wall in Biddeford may be meaningful to those who are honored on the wall, their friends and families, and to the community at large. Please explain which group or particular people might find the Heroes Wall most meaningful. In your response, please be specific and use examples or proof from our visit to justify your writing.

Meagan Huard reading to the assembled crowd at the Wreaths Across America presentation.

When I first heard that our class was going to visit the Heroes Wall in Biddeford, I wasn’t sure if the trip to see this wall would be meaningful to anyone else. I knew it meant we’d be away from school for a while, and that would be good, but it also meant that I’d be seeing both of my grandfathers.

After a 10 or 15-minute ride on one of the school’s short busses, we shuffled off the bus and into the cold and cloudy weather. My classmates and I stood staring at the black and gray concrete wall that carries the names and faces of more than 300 people who have spent some time serving our country as part of the military. I told my teacher, both my grandfathers were on the wall and some of my friends heard me and wanted to see them.

Meagan - Donald Huard

Meagan Huard standing near the plaque that honors her grandfather, Donald Huard.

One grandfather, my pepere Donald Huard, was there on the front of the wall dressed in his Army uniform. He’d spent seven years in the Army and it wasn’t until I talked to him about this trip that I learned he’d been part of the 101st Airborne Division and jumped out of airplanes. He’d been a paratrooper and worked in the mess halls. I knew him as the owner of a sub-shop in Biddeford and the one who loved my grandmother more than anything in the world, but here he was, a young man who’d gone to Korea and as he told me, “we jumped and paved the way for the straight legs.”  

Meagan Huard standing near the photograph of her other grandfather, Gilman Roy.

My other pepere, Gilman Roy, was on the other side of the wall, and he too was shown in his uniform. He was a marine who also served during the Korean war. He was in the service for more than 10 years. For years, I asked my pepere why one of his fingers was missing and he always answered that is was bitten by a seagull. It was only when I talked with my mom that I learned that his finger had been amputated when he was in the service and he was medically discharged.  When I looked at his picture, I thought about him and tried to imagine what it must have been like for someone so young to willingly march off to war.

Strange as this sounds, that made me think about my sister’s boyfriend, Ben Gomes, also a marine and someone who did two tours in Afghanistan working as someone who swept for IEDs. I also thought about my best friend, Evan Dube,  who is now in the U.S. Navy and deployed on a submarine somewhere in the Pacific. All of them have made a sacrifice. All of them have done this without seeking praise or notoriety. They just did what was expected of them.

I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that I think the Heroes wall serves many purposes, but for me, it is most meaningful for the family and friends of those whose pictures and stories cover the cold concrete. It means a lot to me.

 


See you on the roads and stay tuned – as always, if I think it’s interesting, I’ll write about it.

Thanks again for reading my stories and as always, you may purchase my novel, Homecoming: A Soldier’s Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption at your local, independent bookstore or online: DavidArenstam.comBrysonTaylorPublishing.com, or Amazon.com

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David Arenstam

About David Arenstam

Originally from away, but here to stay - Maine is my home and I love writing stories about the people and places from my end of the state. I am a teacher and writer and my first novel, "Homecoming: A Soldier's Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption" is available now at www.BrysonTaylorPublishing.com