They climbed to the Summit in fallen soldiers’ honor

UNLOADING THE MEMORY STONES — Lake Region High School teacher Carmel Collins remove memorial stones as part of the Summit Project in front of the high school before Sunday's hike of Pleasant Mountain. (Rivet Photo)

UNLOADING THE MEMORY STONES — Lake Region High School teacher Carmel Collins remove memorial stones as part of the Summit Project in front of the high school before Sunday's hike of Pleasant Mountain. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Carmel Collins is always looking for opportunities to “bring real life experiences” to the classroom.

This August, she “stepped” into an incredible project.

While waiting for the start of the 5K Race for the Fallen in Brunswick, she noticed Marines were handing out small, little white notices promoting The Summit Project. Carmel took one.

“It was about carrying stones dedicated to the ‘fallen.’ I like to hike, and thought it would be awesome to hike with a purpose,” the Lake Region High School teacher said. “Then, I thought maybe some students might be interested, and then my mind jumped to maybe our ‘Academy’ — the Visual and Performing Arts — might be interested.”

Collins and fellow runner/teacher Linda Davis created a mini six-week lesson involving The Summit Project and opened it to 18 students. Twenty-one were interested, so they slightly expanded the project.

The Summit Project was created by United States Marine Corps Major David J. Cote, of Bangor, in 2013. According to his website, “The Summit Project, a 501(c)3 service organization, is a living memorial that pays tribute to the fallen service members from Maine who have died in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The mission of The Summit Project is to honor our state’s newest war casualties and the faithful spirit of all Mainers.”

TAKING PART IN THE HIKE  was Kathy McDonald, whose son Sgt. Edmund McDonald was killed in Afghanistan. (Rivet Photo)

TAKING PART IN THE HIKE was Kathy McDonald, whose son Sgt. Edmund McDonald was killed in Afghanistan. (Rivet Photo)

Families select a stone in honor of their “fallen soldier,” the The Summit Project has it engraved. Information is also collected regarding the fallen soldier, and used to develop a short video, which is on the Project’s website.

“Tribute” hikes are held in honor of these soldiers.

“As a living memorial, The Summit Project is much more than names on a wall. We will prepare for our tribute hikes by learning as much as possible about each fallen Maine hero — we want to know who they were as siblings, spouses, children, soldiers, citizens and Mainers,” according to the Summit Project website. “Before every climb our teams of hikers will watch the short videos on this site, videos that our surviving families have helped to create. These stories will help us get a glimpse of the lives of our fallen heroes, appreciate their service, and orient our own mind, body and spirit toward honoring and sustaining their memory.”

Major Cote added, “We hope this project can help tell a story of a generation of Mainers who did not come back to Maine, but whose service and sacrifice will never be forgotten. This is a story of our generation of Maine service members — a story that needs to be told. It’s an opportunity to say to our veterans you did your job. You served with honor. You made us proud. We are connected to you and continue to learn from your example. We are inspired by you. We honor your sacrifice. We do not forget you. Your legacy endures.”

HONORING FALLEN FRIENDS — Bailey Crawford was joined by her father, Todd, who served in Iraq. The Crawfords made the hike in honor of two of Todd's fallen friends, Chris Gelineau and Tom Dostie. (Rivet Photo)

HONORING FALLEN FRIENDS — Bailey Crawford was joined by her father, Todd, who served in Iraq. The Crawfords made the hike in honor of two of Todd's fallen friends, Chris Gelineau and Tom Dostie. (Rivet Photo)

Groups can arrange to hold tribute hikes by contacting The Summit Project.

That’s exactly what Carmel Collins did. This was the first time the Project had partnered with a school, which had Collins both excited about the opportunity, but also a little “pressured to succeed.”

Upon gaining approval from LRHS Principal Ted Finn, the two teachers developed a lesson plan for the next six weeks.

First, students wrote a paper explaining why they were interested in taking part in the Summit Project. They also wrote about what did they expect and what were their goals?

Senior Nicole Fox felt she really didn’t do much on Veterans Day or Memorial Day, and felt the project would be a good opportunity to honor a soldier. After reviewing a list of possible soldiers to select, Nicole chose Sgt. Edmund McDonald.

 

LRHS Hiker/Soldier honored Talya Bartlett: LCpl Joshua M. Bernard Rahcel Bell: SGT Brandon M. Silk Michelle Bender: CPT John R. Brainard III Audrey Blais: CPL Andrew L. Hutchins Amanda Botros: MSG Robert M. Horrigan Danielle Collins: Jordan Brochu Bailey Crawford: SGT Christopher D. Gelineau Todd Crawford (Bailey’s father): SFC Thomas J. Dostie Justina Currier: PFC Buddy W. McLain Brittany Dorsey: Major Jay T. Aubin Isabelle Edwards: SGT Jeremiah J. Holmes Nicole Fox: SGT Edmund W. McDonald Leticia Gomez: SPC Dustin J. Harris Nikola Gomolova: SSG Dale J. Kelly Rozlin Hawkes: PFC Andrew R. Small Mary Loan: SPC Jason E. Dore Carlie MacVicar: SGT Joel A. House Hannah Parsons: SGT Joshua J. Kirk Michaela Tripp: SFC Aaron A. Henderson Paula Tripp (Michaela’s mother): SPC Justin L. Buxbaum Madison Wildey: SGT Brett Pelotte Ted Coffin (TSP Representative): SGT Daniel F. Cunningham and Major Samuel C. Leigh Linda Davis (LRHS teacher): CPT Christopher S. Cash Carmel Collins (LRHS teacher): James R. Zimmerman

LRHS Hiker/Soldier honored
Talya Bartlett: LCpl Joshua M. Bernard
Rachel Bell: SGT Brandon M. Silk
Michelle Bender: CPT John R. Brainard III
Audrey Blais: CPL Andrew L. Hutchins
Amanda Botros: MSG Robert M. Horrigan
Danielle Collins: Jordan Brochu
Bailey Crawford: SGT Christopher D. Gelineau
Todd Crawford (Bailey’s father): SFC Thomas J. Dostie
Justina Currier: PFC Buddy W. McLain
Brittany Dorsey: Major Jay T. Aubin
Isabelle Edwards: SGT Jeremiah J. Holmes
Nicole Fox: SGT Edmund W. McDonald
Leticia Gomez: SPC Dustin J. Harris
Nikola Gomolova: SSG Dale J. Kelly
Rozlin Hawkes: PFC Andrew R. Small
Mary Loan: SPC Jason E. Dore
Carlie MacVicar: SGT Joel A. House
Hannah Parsons: SGT Joshua J. Kirk
Michaela Tripp: SFC Aaron A. Henderson
Paula Tripp (Michaela’s mother): SPC Justin L. Buxbaum
Madison Wildey: SGT Brett Pelotte
Ted Coffin (TSP Representative): SGT Daniel F. Cunningham and Major Samuel C. Leigh
Linda Davis (LRHS teacher): CPT Christopher S. Cash
Carmel Collins (LRHS teacher): James R. Zimmerman

“The soldier I picked — Edmund McDonald — actually went to Lake Region High School,” said Nicole, whose grandfather served in the U.S. Air Force.

Classmate Bailey Crawford is from a military family, and naturally wanted to take part in the project.

In 2004, Bailey’s father, Todd, was deployed with the 133rd to Iraq.

“There were some guys my dad was very close to that were killed there,” Bailey said. “My dad is also going to do the hike so we picked Chris Gelineau and Tommy Dostie.”

Collins was very surprised by immediate responses from students.

“I had no idea what was going to unfold,” she said. “Some of the stories are quite amazing.”

On the Summit Project website, students watched short videos of family members talking about why a certain rock was selected as their memorial stone, where the stone came from and that spots significance to the soldier. The stones are kept in Portland.

LRHS students then took part in a conference call last week with Major Cote, who talked about the program, its goals and held a question-answer session.

Emotions started to ramp up this week as students counted down the days to the hike. There was some tension and nerves, especially amongst some who would actually meet the parents of a fallen soldier. One was Nicole Fox who would meet Sgt. McDonald’s mother, Kathy.

TIME FOR REFLECTION — When the group reached the summit, they had a moment of silence in honor of those lost. (Photo by Nicole Fox)

TIME FOR REFLECTION — When the group reached the summit, they had a moment of silence in honor of those lost. (Photo by Nicole Fox)

“This is a living memorial and I’ll be thinking about Ed’s life, who he left behind. This is the first time for me being somehow connected to someone who was killed in war. Putting myself in the family’s shoes has been interesting,” Nicole said. “I learned Edmund wanted discipline in life, which changed his mind about joining the military.”

Bailey expected an emotional, thought-provoking hike Sunday morning.

“It will be difficult for us. Halfway up, my dad and I plan to switch rocks. My dad has a whole bunch of stories about them, which he will probably talk about. I’ll get to learn more about each of them. Chris Gelineau wasn’t supposed to be on that mission, but he helped a buddy out. He who had just come back from another mission and was exhausted, so Chris stepped in,” Bailey said. “I was in second grade when he was gone. It was difficult. We video-chatted at times. At first, dad was going on a vacation without us. Then, we started paying more attention as to what was happening and the realization sank in.”

Like the students, Carmel Collins looked forward to Sunday’s hike.

“It is a time of reflection and sadness, but also of celebration,” she said. “It’s a reflective climb. As you hike, think about the stone you are carrying and the soul of that person. It will be a different kind of hike.”

TOGETHER — Memorial stones were placed together along with Maine and American flags, which were flown in Iraq. (Photo by Nicole Fox)

TOGETHER — Memorial stones were placed together along with Maine and American flags, which were flown in Iraq.
(Photo by Nicole Fox)

Special day

Here’s how the day unfolded, according to Collins:

We began the hike around 8:45 a.m., and reached the summit around 11.30. Students were given a small American flag to carry on the outside of their back packs.

The experience was very much a sense of community and reverence for our fallen heroes. All of the soldiers were from Maine and this was a running thread that connected us all. As we hiked, the students engaged in dialogue with one another about the life of the soldier they chose. Students had come to know their soldier through the physicality of the hike and the weight of the stone in their back packs. These weren’t just any stones they were carrying, these were the stones of a soldier’s life, a soldier’s history, a soldier with family and friends, a soldier who lived and breathed and gave his life for what he believed in....his country.

One student, Leticia Gomez from Paraguay, explained that she didn’t quite understand The Summit Project until she saw the stones, began hiking and participated in the ceremony. She witnessed the passion, the sacrifice, the dedication, and compassion of everyone in the circle and of the names on the stones as they were carefully laid next to one another as though they were “brothers in arms.” Lat shared that she now had a better understanding of the conflicts that America has engaged in and will continue further studies of conflicts around the world.

Three of the students were foreign exchange students, and one of them, Nikola Gomolova from Germany, grew up 30 minutes away from Maine Gold Star widow, Emily Brainard. Nikola hiked carrying the stone in honor of CPT Jay Brainard.

Another hiker conducted her own research about her uncle’s death in the Vietnam conflict. She found a website, where she could connect with comrades who served along side her uncle. She plans to make a remembrance book for her grandfather.

The hike was quite challenging for a large number of students. For some students, this was their first hike. As one student commented, “I’ve never hiked before, but this seemed a good reason to hike.”

We took occasional two- to three-minute rests so that the group could stay together. It was important that we all reached the summit as one unified group.

On reaching the summit, students were given some time to eat, talk amongst themselves and just to have a moment alone. During this time Ted, Todd (Bailey’s father), and I arranged the flags on top of a raised exposed rock area. Bailey’s father, had brought with him the USA flag and the Maine flag that he had flown at his base in Afghanistan, where his friends had been killed. All three flags were placed upon fabric that had been laid upon the ground, (the American flag should not touch the bare ground, there should always be something between the bare ground and the flag). The students gathered in a circle holding their stones.

Ted Coffin from the Summit Project placed the stones. One by one, each student shared the name, rank and personal information about their fallen hero, after which they placed the stone in the center of the circle next to the American flag and Maine flag. After all the stones were place, we all held hands and had a few moments of silence.

The ceremony was very honest, open, respectful and emotionally-charged. There were moments of stumbled words as a wavered voice struggled to fight back tears. Times where words were just lost in a heavy silence of remembrance. As each student walked to place their stone a stillness befell them and the circle became a home of peace.

As the ceremony came to a close Todd Crawford spoke a few heartfelt words to the students praising them and The Summit Project.

Once the ceremony was concluded we made our decent down the mountain. As we made our descent other hikers were intrigued by such a large group of female hikers carrying the American flag on their back packs. Many conversations took place explaining what we were doing why.

Kathy McDonald was the parent who attended. Her son lost was Edmund J. McDonald. Nicole Fox was the student who carried his stone.

Betsy Hutchins was another parent who attended. Her son lost was Andrew Hutchins. Audrey Blais carried his stone.

Up next

A presentation of the work with The Summit Project will be performed on Monday, Oct. 20, at LRHS at 9:15 a.m. Students will present a film of the hike, a creative movement recreation of the hike, visual art presentation of the fallen heroes, and a dance.

Ted Coffin is an official representative of TSP who participated on the hike and will be attending the presentation.

Families of the fallen will also be in attendance.

The veterans in our neighboring towns have also been invited.

More work to do

The project calls for the Lake Region group to document the entire process, video the climb and share it with The Summit Project, which will post it on its website.

Students will be required to write a “reflective” paper, explaining whether their thoughts had changed and how will it enhance your life?

Carmel Collins expects to receive more interesting, emotional stories to read.

 

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