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Honor Flight Maine Veterans Receive Heroes’ Welcome

by Ulani Louangrath
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Two Lincoln County Vietnam-era veterans experienced an enthusiastic welcome home on April 30 after returning from an Honor Flight Maine trip to Washington, D.C.

U.S. Army veteran Ronald Poland, of Bremen, along with his guardian for the Honor Flight trip, Forest Faulkingham, of Alna, an Air National Guard veteran, said they were impressed and appreciative of the welcome they received when arriving at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., April 28 and when returning to Maine at the Portland International Jetport on April 30.

Poland said he was close to tears when they arrived at the Ronald Reagan National Airport and were greeted by about 800 people to welcome them, shaking hands with children thanking the veterans for their service.

“It was an experience I will never forget,” Poland said. He said he is thankful to Honor Flight Maine for the opportunity of visiting the Veterans’ Memorials, and experiencing the emotion that is felt there.

Poland, born and raised in Bremen, a lobsterman in the summer and a boat builder in the winter, never had much interest in traveling, he said. In fact, he said, referring to Faulkingham, “He did well to get me to go on the Honor Flight trip, but, I am glad I went.”

During a recent interview with the two veterans, Faulkingham said, “Twenty miles from home is too far for Ron.”

“The Damariscotta-Newcastle town line is far enough from home for me,” Poland said.

Poland and Faulkingham are veterans of the Vietnam era, and they made a clear distinction between a Vietnam veteran, and a veteran of the Vietnam era.

“I never served in Vietnam and I refused to wear a ‘Vietnam Veteran’ cap,” Poland said. “The Vietnam Veteran cap is reserved for veterans who served in Vietnam, and the Vietnam era cap is worn by veterans who served in the Vietnam era, and were not deployed to Vietnam.”

Poland said he was discharged on Jan. 24, 1968, 30 days before his battalion went to Vietnam.

He served in the 7th Engineer Battalion, and spent the majority of his military service at Fort Carson, Col., building flooding pontoons and wooden bridges for practice.

Poland and Faulkingham said that when coming home in the late 1960s after completing their active duty, they were advised not to wear their uniforms to travel because war protesters could bring harm to them.

After being discharged, Poland came home and picked up where he left off, lobstering with his father, Earnest, a World War II veteran. He later married his wife, Ruth. The couple has three sons, Fernald, Bobby, and Ronald.

Poland has also formally his community as the town’s fire chief, and he currently serves on the board of trustees at the Bremen Volunteer Fire Department.

He and Faulkingham said Honor Flight Maine is “a class act,” with flights well-planned for the veterans down to the last detail, making them feel they are heroes wherever or whenever they served.

Faulkingham has been on the Honor Flight two times as a guardian, and is so impressed with the program that he has offered his services again as a guardian if the need occurs.

According to the application to be a guardian for a veteran on a Honor Flight trip, the guardian must be physically able to push a wheelchair veteran up to 200 pounds a distance of four miles, lift 100 pounds waist high, 50 pounds shoulder high, and 25 pounds above the shoulders.

Faulkingham said it is a lot of walking, and pushing uphill in some locations, but the adrenaline is flowing so high the physical aspect of the activity is not thought about.

During the Honor Flight trips the wheelchairs used for the veterans are stored in the plane, packed in the buses used in Washington to transport the veterans, and according to Poland and Faulkingham, take quite a beating being packed in and out of the buses several times throughout the three-day trip.

There is currently a fundraiser going on to buy new wheelchairs for the Honor Fight program.

At the first meeting of the Bremen Volunteer Fire Department following the April Honor Flight, the group voted to donate $500 to the wheelchair fund in honor of the late Bremen Fire Chief Donald Leeman, who passed away Sept. 17, 2022.

Anyone wishing to donate to the wheelchair fund is asked to send their donations to Honor Flight Maine, PO Box 699, Brunswick, ME O4011-0699, noting the donation is for the wheelchair fund.

According to the Honor Flight Network’s mission statement, the goal is for every veteran that is able to board a plane or a bus to visit their war memorials. The top priority is World War II era veterans, veterans with terminal illness, Korean War veterans, Vietnam War veterans, and all other veterans on a chronological basis. All men and women serving in the military, stateside or overseas, are eligible.

The network’s motto is the Will Rogers quote, “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.”

Source : Lincoln County News

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