Solemn ceremonies honor veterans

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Mel Tukey plays Taps Saturday in a Wreaths Across America ceremony in South Buxton Cemetery. At the podium is event organizer and Buxton Selectman Chad Poitras.

Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts places a wreath Saturday on a veteran’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

At Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Saturday, Gorham Police Department representatives Officer Wayne Drown, left, and Sgt. Ted Hatch, middle, along with Officer Jordan Perry of Bangor Police salute after placing a wreath on a veteran’s grave in Wreaths Across America.

Buxton Fire Department color guard posts flags Saturday at South Buxton Cemetery observance.

Bagpiper Travis Cote plays Saturday in South Buxton Cemetery in a Wreaths Across America ceremony.

Richard “Sandy” Atkinson, president of South Buxton Cemetery Association, at the podium Saturday said 366 wreaths were placed on veterans graves there and the cemetery was one of 1,600 locations around the world observing Wreaths Across America.

Veterans graves in South Buxton Cemetery are decorated with wreaths.

Revolutuionary War reenactor Gil Olivarez of Hollis fires a musket in a salute Saturday at a Wreaths Across America observance in South Buxton Cemetery.

Scouts  participate in a ceremony at South Buxton Cemetary Saturday remembering veterans in conjunction with Wreaths Across America.

BUXTON — Wreaths Across America observances overwhelmed people with emotion Saturday at the South Buxton Cemetery and at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where Westbrook and Gorham police helped lay wreaths on veterans’ graves.

Saturday’s 12th annual Buxton observance was solemn with Taps, the placing of wreaths, bagpipe music, a moment of silence and a musket salute. Richard “Sandy” Atkinson, president of the cemetery association, this week called the ceremony “extremely emotional.”

Donated wreaths decorated 366 graves of veterans.

“It is overwhelming to view all the wreaths placed at our cemetery,” Atkinson said.

The Buxton ceremony was conducted simultaneously with one at Arlington. Westbrook and Gorham police officers escorted a truck convoy loaded with wreaths from Maine and participated in ceremonies at the national cemetery.

Police Chief Janine Roberts and Officer Rich Alexander represented Westbrook while Sgt. Ted Hatch and Officer Wayne Drown represented Gorham

“To think of the hundreds of thousands of our military lives lost and buried on this hallowed ground is incredibly emotional,” Roberts said. “The playing of Taps is also another emotional experience that almost always results in tears rolling down my cheeks.”

Hatch this week told of meeting families of men and women buried
in the national cemetery, and said he heard some compelling stories. A Gold Star mother rode a ways in the convoy with him, he said, and elementary school children recited essays in ceremonies during stops along the route to Arlington.

“This trip was one of the most humbling experiences,” Hatch said. “If you don’t cry, you’re not normal.

Roberts was tapped for a special assignment. She assisted in laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which she said was an honor “humbling beyond words.”

Roberts played a key role in organizing Maine’s involvement of the expedition to Arlington and the ceremony. “Janine is the catalyst,” Hatch said.

On the homefront, the Buxton ceremony drew a crowd with a mix of residents and veterans, some wearing uniforms or caps. “It’s wonderful to see so many people here today,” Chad Poitras, a selectman and event chairman, said in opening remarks.

Keynote speaker Kris Stanley, an Army Chaplain, told of her deployment with the Air Force to Kyrgyzstan. She urged people to talk with veterans to learn  their stories. Some are “living and dead at the same time,” Stanley said.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 780-9089 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.