Casco couple to embark on patriotic mission to honor ‘the fallen’

Pauline and Bernard Willey, of Casco, stand in front of an American Flag on Veterans Day. The Vietnam War veteran and his wife plan to take part in “Wreaths across America” in early December. (De Busk Photo)

Pauline and Bernard Willey, of Casco, stand in front of an American Flag on Veterans Day. The Vietnam War veteran and his wife plan to take part in “Wreaths across America” in early December.        (De Busk Photo)

“Our mission is to remember the fallen who gave up their tomorrows with family and loved ones, so that we can enjoy ours.”
— Wreaths Across America website

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer
CASCO — Three weeks after Bernard and Pauline were married, he left Maine to fight in the Vietnam War.
Forty-nine years after Pauline and Bernard Willey took their wedding vows, they are planning a cross-country trip. They signed up for “Wreaths across America,” a week-long event to honor fallen soldiers by placing wreaths on their graves.
Long before they started their married life, Bernard had already enlisted. That was in 1959.
Then, in 1965 — less than a month after the wedding, Bernard traveled to Fort Belvoir in Virginia for military training. His Company 87th Engineers landed at Cam Ranh Bay, the world’s largest, deepest sea port. That is where his tour in Vietnam started.
Meanwhile, with her new husband overseas, Pauline stayed at her parents’ home.
“I had a big map of Vietnam on a wall in my bedroom. Every time, we heard something on the news, we looked at the map to see where he was compared to the fighting,” she said.
“It was scary. I worried about him a lot,” she said.
There were no phone calls. Letters took weeks to arrive at their destination.
As often as she could, Pauline mailed a care package to him that included common sense stuff like socks, underwear and lots of home-baked goodies and store-bought candy and cases of chocolate bars that he could share with others. Both sides of the family helped, his and hers, she said.
How long were they separated by war? He paused to recall. But, she was first to answer. After all, that was a detail she remembered strongly.
“I was home waiting. So, I know that it was 13 months,” she said.
Thirteen months passed before the newlyweds were reunited.
After returning to American soil, Bernard spent about a year at Fort Belvoir, training the new military recruits.
“Nothing’s tougher than teaching a draftee to be a mechanic,” he said, laughing with another Vietnam veteran sitting at the table.
On Tuesday morning, Bernard and Pauline were among the home-town veterans who gathered at the Casco Community Center for the town’s annual Veterans Day breakfast.
While Pauline caught up on visiting, Bernard was touching base with a few people he hadn’t seen for a while. He had a stack of “Wreaths across America” business cards, and he was handing those out to friends.
He said six buses will be following the tractor-trailer full of wreaths. He and his wife will be riding on one of the buses, he said. The journey begins on Pearl Harbor Day in Columbia Falls, Maine.
Travelers take Route 1 to Harrington, where the volunteers finish making the wreaths at the factory and start loading trucks for the road trip, which ends at the Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, according to the itinerary listed on the website. Many of the stops are to visit high schools, including those in Westbrook, Scarborough, Biddeford, Kennebunk and Wells.
One of the missions of the Arlington Project is to honor the military men and women who fought and died for the people in America, and the principals of America. Another objective is to educate the public about the duties and sacrifices of the military — in past and present warfare, according to the website.
Pauline explained what prompted the couple to decide to do this.
“We have friends who have been going for seven years — although we did not know that until this year,” she said.
The friends, who live in Portland, share a love of motorcycles with the Willeys. Recently, the couple went to a social gathering and struck up a conversation with their friends. The other couple mentioned Wreaths across America, and said it was a great experience.
“They started talking to us about it; and it didn’t take them long to convince us to do it,” Pauline said.
After all, both Pauline and Bernard had heard about it. Another family member, Bernard’s younger brother’s wife, Shelley M. Willey, of Hartland, took part in the project.
“She said it was one of the most heart-warming things she has ever done,” Pauline said, adding Shelley recommended everyone take part in it sometime during their life.
“Our friends really got us motivated. They had been going seven years, and they thought we would like it,” Pauline said.
The Willeys’ friends knew the ropes, and said they could assist in arranging the trip to be part of the caravan going north to south along the East Coast.
In less than a month, Bernard and Pauline will embark on a new military-related journey, one they’ll be doing together. This time, Pauline won’t be at home crossing out the days on the calendar and waiting with fretfulness.
She will join her husband and so many others – honoring those Americans who wore their country’s military uniforms and died doing so.
Those who participate in the Arlington project, repeatedly, they will be putting a Christmas wreath on a grave – such a simple gesture. But, their effort will be demonstrating that no veteran’s ultimate sacrifice was in vain.
“It’ll be a new adventure for us — that’s for sure,” Pauline said.
“We are really looking forward to it — the whole thing,” she said.
“The camaraderie,” Bernard said.
“The camaraderie of the whole thing,” Pauline said.
“And the cars that follow the caravan and all the way down, there are people waving on the sides of the road” were other reasons for going, she said.
Bernard said a big draw for him “is stopping at the Veterans cemeteries.”
“Making you more aware of all these soldiers who died,” Pauline said.
For more information about the organization, go to  HYPERLINK "http://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org" www.wreathsacrossamerica.org

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