Friday, December 18, 2009

Wreaths Across America Stops at Wells Junior High School

By Reg Bennett
On Dec. 7th, the convoy known as Wreaths Across America stopped briefly at Wells Junior High School to take part in a wreath laying ceremony at Ocean View Cemetery. This stop has become a part of the journey that this organization takes on its annual 750-mile trip from Harrington, Maine, where the wreaths are made at the Worcester Wreath Company, to Arlington National Cemetery. The convoy was carrying over 100,000 “remembrance” wreaths to be placed at gravesites of veterans in Arlington and at many other cemeteries in the country.
Around 8 a.m., a portion of Route 1 in Wells was cordoned off by the Wells Police Department. Soon after, semi-tractor trailers carrying balsam fir wreaths parked adjacent to the front of the school and across from Ocean View Cemetery. The convoy, consisting of dozens of cars and other vehicles, was led by John O’Leary and his wife Bunny of the Patriot Guard Riders, an organization that escorts the convoy to the Washington D.C. area.
At Ocean View Cemetery Principal Chris Chessie introduced Cassidy Healey and Brittany Stutes who led in the Pledge of Allegiance. Chessie also acknowledged Cindy Roche, Sally Morse and student volunteers who made the wreaths placed at Ocean View. There were many in attendance including the entire student body of WJHS, Karen and Morrill Worcester of the Worcester Wreath Company, numerous veterans including Commander James Kilbride of the Wells-Ogunquit American Legion Post 143 and Kennebunk VFW Post 6545 and American Legion Commander Ken Kingsley. Commander Kilbride was also a part of the ceremony’s honor guard.
As Taps was played on the trumpet by WHS student Justin Lareau, eight students placed wreaths at memorials to veterans. Those students included Kayla Looper, Charlotte Merrifield, Tim Barnard, Abby Ford, Barry White, Juliane Fitzpatrick, Anthony Crawford and Desirae Kuhn.
After the ceremony, guests were invited back to the school’s cafeteria for refreshments and a brief performance of one song by the 7th and 8th grade chorus entitled, Song for the Unsung Hero.
Winners of the VFW’s Patriot’s Pen contest were also acknowledged and photographed.
“It’s great that the Wells Junior High participates in this. It is a good cause. It is rewarding to them and to the veterans,” said Commander Ken Kingsley who served with the Navy Seabees in Vietnam.
“This is a wonderful, wonderful event,” said U.S. Army veteran and Director of Emergency Management for York County Robert Bohlman, who was at the wreath laying ceremony and at the reception. “Wells has a chance to participate in this and it brings out what the whole program across the nation is really about and we’re glad Mr. Worcester was able to stop here.”
The tradition of bringing wreaths from Harrington to Arlington by Mr. Worcester began in 1992 when he had wreaths left over during the holiday season. He decided to drive 5,000 wreaths to Arlington. That was 18 trips ago.
Photo caption: Leading the honor guard to Ocean View Cemetery from WJHS is Commander James Kilbride of the Wells-Ogunquit American Legion Post 143 and WHS student Justin Lareau. (Reg Bennett photo)

Drive-Through Nativity to highlight Christmas in York

York-area residents and holiday visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy a special Christmas celebration this year as members of First Parish Church present a Drive-Through Nativity, The Journey To Bethlehem.
Staged as a living tableau with live actors portraying all the characters of the original Christmas story, the program will take place, rain or shine, on Saturday evening, Dec. 19, from 5 to 7 p.m., in the loop around Town Hall and the church in York Village. Admission will be free, and all are invited.
Dozens of volunteers have been working for several months, according to Janet and Larry Cassidy, co-chairs of the event, and many more are signed up to work as the date draws nearer. “The committees range from set design, props and costumes to carpentry, lighting and even live animals,” he said.
“There will be seven distinct sets,” Janet explained. “The first will be the annunciation of Mary by the angel Gabriel, which will be right behind Town Hall.
“Then there will follow a series of scenes including Caesar’s Palace, travelers on the road to Bethlehem, the wise men, the overcrowded inn, shepherds and angels in the field and, of course, the manger.” More than 70 church members will be portraying the authentically costumed characters in the nativity story, according to the Cassidys.
The audience will be able to view each scene from the comfort – and warmth – of their vehicles, entering from York Street and slowly traversing the loop around to the exit between the church and the Parish House.
The sets are being built, painted and decorated in Long Sands Shopping Center space donated by Ellen Baldwin. “We’re getting help from many corners,” said Larry. “Live animals from Triple G Farm in York, assistance from Eldredge Lumber, a beautiful three-dimensional camel created by artist Maiken Kunces of Thomaston, props – including a pair of golden lion statues – from Steve and Janet Erickson of York Beach…the list goes on and on. An anonymous donor is covering our out-of-pocket expenses. It’s just amazing.”
“We’re planning to make this an annual event,” Janet said. “We’re hoping we can make Christmas in York even more special than it already is. And, of course, we’re hoping that this event will serve to remind everyone of the true meaning of Christmas.”
“We’re not doing this for ourselves,” Larry added, “although the participants are certainly enthusiastic about the project. We’re doing it for the community. It’s a gift to our neighbors.”
Photo caption: Teams of designers, carpenters and painters have been working on the sets in space in Long Sands Shopping Center. Mike Lawlor (left) and Bill Dunn recently applied finishing touches to the framework of the throne room in Caesar’s Palace. (Per Jonas photo)

Pease Greeters Roll Out the Welcome Mat for Arriving Troops

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
A tradition begun in 2005 continues today to impact the lives of many veterans, men and woman on active military duty, and civilians.
It was in that spring that the Seacoast Detachment, Marine Corps League met the first flight of troops landing at Pease and returning from the battlefront in the Near East. Since then, according to Jack P. Savastano of North Hampton, the Pease Greeters public affairs officer, more than 320 flights of men and women, going to and coming from the battlefront, have been met.
“This is not a small piece of Americana,” Savastano said earlier this week. “It’s a big piece of Americana.”
Back in 2005, the Pease Development Authority noticed the situation with the troops coming in and contacted the Marine Corps League. It has grown from there.
“We started basically with an empty air terminal,” Savastano said. “Now you’re talking overflow parking.”
Since it began, the Pease Greeters group has not missed a single flight and has grown to well over 100 elders and youths, all offering their thanks and greetings for these heroes, said Ed Johnson, chairman of the group, in a letter on the Greeters’ website.
Now, veterans and civilians of all ages join the Greeters, who come from throughout the Seacoast area of Southern Maine and Southeastern New Hampshire and beyond. “The kids are very happy to come meet the troops,” Savastano said.
Even as the reputation of the Pease Greeters grows, there is, Savastano said, “Still a little bit of shock and awe” once they arrive here.
Many of them bring gifts, especially those retuning from overseas. These artifacts presented by the troops are on display in the terminal.
One of the main displays is from a different era, a 48-star American flag that hit the beach at Guadalcanal in 1942. One of the Greeters, Jerry McConnell, Savastano said, was with that flag when it went ashore.
With the crowds growing, at times even including a high school band, new sound equipment was needed, so a group of students from Marshwood Middle School raised $1,600 to buy a new, bigger system in two hours at a bowl-a-thon.
The Greeters don’t know what services those arriving are from, but as soon as they find out, that service’s song is played in the terminal as the troops enter and they are greeted by handshakes, cheers and flashing cameras.
While on the ground they are welcome to call anywhere they wish on a special bank of phones. Initially, Johnson said, cell phones were freely offered by the Greeters for the troops to call home with news. Now a bank of phones may be used free of charge, exclusively for the veterans, courtesy of Whaleback Systems, a company located in the Pease Tradeport.
There are refreshments available and, if by chance a soldier comes from the area, efforts are made to get the family together for at least a few minutes.
Savastano noted that parents of one arrival were contacted and brought to the terminal by police escort. Another troop mentioned he had a brother in the Coast Guard serving “at the shipyard up here.”
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Security was contacted. They located the young man and he was brought to Pease for a short but heart-felt reunion with his twin brother.
There have been troops come through who were born here while a parent was serving at the now closed Pease Air Force Base or the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
The stories are endless.
Each group that comes through is photographed and those pictures are displayed in the terminal and on a website the troops can access.
In a short ceremony they are welcomed, there is a short session where old warriors meet the young warriors, and each of the troops is given gifts, most of which are donated by people and businesses in the area.
Lindt Chocolate and the Bose Corporation have donated items, among others, area women have baked thousands of cookies, and the commander of each unit is presented a sweatshirt signed by the Greeters.
Savastano has been impressed by the faces of the young Americans who have come through the terminal.
“You look at the faces of these kids,” he said. “It’s infectious. It is an eagerness to serve their country. That’s what you see in their faces.”
Information on arriving flights and the nationally known and honored Pease Greeters is available at the group’s website,