American Legion gives unofficial Topsham war memorial a permanent home

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TOPSHAM — A privately maintained war memorial has a new home after the Board of Selectmen unanimously supported moving the commemorative site from town property on Route 196 to the local American Legion post.

Gordon Kinney of Tedford Road created the memorial on what was then state property, without permission from the state or town. The land was part of 21 acres off the Coastal Connector that the state turned over to the town at no charge.

The memorial consists of more than 100 black wooden silhouettes of battle crosses, the burial markers traditionally created using a fallen soldier’s helmet, dog tags, rifle and boots, Kinney said.

Kinney, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, said Tuesday that he erected the memorial at least four years ago as a means of bringing attention to the soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each silhouette has the name, rank and date of death of soldiers from New England. So far Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island are represented.

“The thing’s always growing until we end this conflict,” he said.

Kinney said he chose the heavily traveled Coastal Connector location for its exposure, but is now resigned to moving the memorial. He said he looks forward to having the American Legion’s help maintaining the memorial, and he hopes to erect more sturdy metal monuments at the new site and start a nonprofit organization to help the families of deceased soldiers pay for critical needs.

“My intent was to have people just see how many people … have lost their lives,” he said.

The original site, on what had been known as the Hickey property, is  between the Topsham Fairgrounds and the Coastal Connector. The Maine Department of Transportation had initially planned to build a garage on the property, but opted instead to build it next to the Public Works garage.

The property was ultimately planned for town recreation purposes if the state did not use it. Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, was involved in the transfer deal and helped to arrange the memorial’s move to Foreside Road, on American Legion Post 202 property.

Post Commander Bob Lemont said Tuesday that the monument will be placed between a Legion baseball field and Foreside Road.

“There’s going to be somebody there to keep it clean and looking nice,” he said, adding that “it’s going to be out in a nice flat area where we can all take care of it and work with (Kinney) and make it something nice for people to come see.”

At a July 7 meeting, Selectman Donald Russell noted that the memorial is currently on landlocked property, and that it could be viewed only by stopping on the Coastal Connector or going through the Fairgrounds.

Town Manager Cornell Knight said the memorial was scheduled to be removed from its current location on Thursday. Kinney informed the Legion that he wants to repair the silhouettes before they are erected at the new site, Knight said.

Selectman Marie Brillant said Kinney’s memorial is an honorable way of recognizing the soldiers, and that moving it to the American Legion property would provide visitors with easier access.

Board of Selectman Chairman Ronald Riendeau noted that “we’re not moving them because we don’t like (the memorial); we’re moving them because we want to give it a little more respect. And what better place could it be (than) on the Legion property.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.