On Saturday morning, April 8, a group of 40 walkers, led by color bearers conveying Maine's state flag and the American flag, hiked a two and a half mile route north from Eastport City Hall along Water Street, up Clark Street to Hillside Cemetery and through the South End before circling back to city hall. What was notable about these hikers was that over half of them were carrying stones in backpacks or bags. The engraved stones are part of The Summit Project, founded in 2013, to honor service members from Maine who have died since September 11, 2001. The project's motto is: "We carry their stone for a hike, we carry their story for a lifetime."
While the majority of the hikers were current or retired service members, including representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a handful of young people also walked along with stones. Among these were three of Eastport resident Richard Mealey's granddaughters, Tabitha Hanson, Michele Cook and Jayden Cook. Hanson attends the University of Maine at Presque Isle. "I am helping support my grandfather. These people put their lives on the line for us, and we are giving back the best we can." Michele Cook, a 16-year-old Shead High School student, who often attends Honor Guard activities, says she does it for her grandfather. "It puts a smile on his face." Mealey served during the Vietnam era and has been a member of the United Veterans Honor Guard of Washington County for 20 years. The honor guard, organizer of the Eastport hike, regularly participates in veteran funerals, memorials, parades and celebrations.
At Hillside Cemetery the hikers stopped to read biographies of the fallen heroes and to tell the stories of the stones. Each stone was collected by a surviving family member at a location special to the deceased C childhood farms, state parks, hills and lakesides. While most biographies described soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, two stones represented service members who took their own lives after returning from combat. "We've got to keep an eye on them," says Lt. Colonel Andrew Pottle of Perry. "Many carry invisible wounds we can't see."
Several hikers have personal connections with the stones they carried. Richard Clark carried a stone engraved with Michael Jones' name. Clark served with Jones in the 133rd Engineer Battalion, Maine Army National Guard. The stone retired Sergeant 1st Class Walter Cummings carried bore the name Sergeant Lynn R. Poulin Sr., 133rd Engineers. Cummings trained with Poulin in the 262nd Engineers. In order to participate in the hike, Cummings requested a one-day postponement for his own formal retirement party scheduled on April 8. "This is a small token of appreciation, definitely the right thing to do," Cummings says. "My sergeant major agreed." Jones and Poulin were killed in the December 21, 2004, bombing of a dining facility in Mosul, Iraq.
Army Specialist Thomas Dotsie also was killed in the dining facility attack. Alex Clifford, command sergeant major of the 286th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and dean of academic affairs at Washington County Community College, carried Dotsie's stone. This hike was not the first journey Clifford made with his fallen comrade from the 133rd Engineers. In 2004, Clifford had the honor of accompanying Dotsie's body home from Iraq.
In addition to the soldiers' stones, hikers carried three stones engraved with the words valor, community and integrity. These highlight The Summit Project's mission "to create a living memorial of meaningful action, community involvement and physical exertion" while promoting Maine values of being faithful to one another and making sacrifices to lift others to higher places.
Following the hike, participants gathered at city hall. Rep. William Tuell of East Machias addressed the hikers, praising them for their commitment to the fallen heroes. Clifford then described the complex process of bringing a soldier's remains back from the field to the United States for burial, while David Sivret of Calais, retired state chaplain and Purple Heart recipient who served in Mosul during 2004‑05, offered a first-hand account of the events on the day Lynn, Poulin and Dotsie lost their lives.
In keeping with the honor guard's commitment to those who serve and to always remember, the event concluded with a moment of silence, a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace," a three-volley rifle salute and a closing prayer. The Summit Project honor case, housing the stones and biographies, will remain at Eastport City Hall until May.