Veterans stories are fascinating because of the histories they teach us about the unusual times when each person served in the military. On May 23, 2017, the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC FAC) will host a program to honor these important histories, including exhibits and presentations from distinguished veterans. I am honored to be involved in organizing this program along with the Board of the Franco-American Collection, in Lewiston.
A value added joy about being a Franco-American writer and blogger includes the wonderful mailings from readers and advocates for the culture. In fact, I treasure all items received from readers and especially appreciate the histories about Franco-American veterans. Recently, Joe Doiron of Sanford sent “A Soldier Coming Home: 1st Lieutenant Ralph L. Hanson (1918-1944)“, a publication of the Sanford/Springvale Fallen Veterans Project 2016.
In the past, George J. Lambert sent “Brothers and Heroes: A Chronicle of Military Service of Six Americans“, a history about his family of veteran brothers.
Sanford native Major Adam Cote, a Franco-American officer, put me in touch with US Marine hero Colonel Todd Desgrossellier, of Auburn, now living in Virginia, who is a recipient the Silver Star Medal (With Combat Distinguishing Device and Gold Star in Lieu of Second Award), Purple Heart Medal (Gold Star in Lieu of Second Award), Meritorious Service Medal (Gold Star in Lieu of Second Award), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (Gold Star in Lieu of 3rd Award), the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, and the Combat Action Ribbon, earned during his career and while fighting in Iraq. He served in Operation Al FAJR in Fallujah, Iraq where he was wounded several times in close quarters combat with the enemy. He is also a veteran of numerous other operations and deployments.
Colonel Donald Dubay USA-Ret, is a native of Lewiston who grew up in Auburn, currently living in North Carolina. He is the distinguished guest speaker for the USM LAC FAC veterans program, at the May 23, 2017 public program, to capstone the histories of Franco-American veterans. Colonal Dubay served tours as a US Defense Attache and as military adviser to host country military forces, and increasingly senior assignments on the US Army staff as analyst and adviser to US Army leadership, as an assistant professor with a Department of Defense institute, and on the Joint Staff as the senior strategic planner for the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Doiron was also kind enough to send data specific to Sanford’s Franco-American veterans. He reported that, by 1943, there were 1, 300 men and women from Sanford who went to World War II, but he estimated the number swelled to 2,000 by 1945, when the war ended. (Among those who served was my brother-in-law, William P. L’Heureux, USN-Chief Petty Officer, who enlisted in the US Navy and served in the Pacific, currently living in Springfield Mass.).
On May 23, 2017, the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College Franco-American Collection (USM LAC FAC) will host a reception and public exhibit from 5-7:30 PM, to honor the collected recordings and the digitization of data collected from Franco-American veterans’ histories. The program is free and open to the public, in Lewiston.
During the program, a comprehensive review will be presented to capstone the veterans project, funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Included in the collection of artifacts are important historical memorabilia and data describing the depth of the veterans’ experiences during many military campaigns. The information provides first person experiences and evidence about the important contributions Maine’s Franco-Americans made in American history.
A program titled “Franco-Americans: A Bridge to International Diplomacy” is scheduled for May 23rd from 5-7:30 PM at the archives and in the foyer, to spotlight and capstone the veterans collection.
Doris Bonneau, of Auburn, is the president of the Franco-American Collection Board. “Our volunteer board worked collaboratively with the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College and with dozens of veterans to collect the data we are including in our community program. We consider the May program to be a capstone, to review the highlights of our collective efforts,” she says.
As a result of a grant received from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Franco-American veterans of all ages were encouraged to offer for digitization their histories in the form of memorabilia, family photographs and official records. A festive “digitization day”, was held in late October at USM LAC, for the purpose of scanning and creating a public record of the hundreds of military experiences contained in the scans. “The Troubadours”, a talented local singing and musical ensemble, provided patriotic music for the program. As it turned out, the impressive data collected during the course of the project provided a century of historical information, dating to the First World War, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, women in the war effort and included modern military campaigns in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The May 23rd program is scheduled to begin with an exhibit and reception in the foyer of the college, located on Westminister Street, in Lewiston. A program and presentation will be held in the conference room, given by guest speakers, who will discuss information in an interactive forum.
A grateful community will have a chance to meet many of the local heroes who contributed so much of their youth to serving our nation in the military. We will collectively thank them for their service. To our Vietnam War heroic veterans, who were seldom recognized for their service in the past, we include, “Welcome Home“.
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