CUMBERLAND — The engraved rocks enshrined in The Summit Project’s honor case are meant to ensure that Maine veterans who have died in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001, remain vivid in people’s memories.
The case, which holds a rotating collection of commemorative stones culled from its total of about 70, is on display at Prince Memorial Library, 266 Main St., through March 24. An opening ceremony, featuring a talk by Russ Shoberg, the honor case manager and member of The Summit Project board, was held there Feb. 8.
Visit thesummitproject.org for more information.
As what Shoberg calls the “living memorial” travels across Maine, so do the stones within it on individual trips. Carried by people who want to honor a particular veteran, they often go on tribute hikes and other treks. It was on such a journey – last October’s Maine Marathon – that Shoberg met fellow marathoner Thomas Bennett, the library’s director, at the Portland Expo.
“I was carrying the tribute stone of Sgt. Kevin Balduf, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2011,” Shoberg told the audience gathered around the honor case, which contains 15 stones. “He left behind a wife, and two children, who are dear friends of mine that I met through the project.”
Bennett asked about stone, learned about The Summit Project, and invited Shoberg to bring the display to Cumberland.
The Raymond resident started with The Summit Project in 2014 when carrying another tribute stone in the marathon.
“That run led to meeting more TSP volunteers and families that shared a core value of servant leadership,” he explained. “From there, I ‘fell into the deep end’ and became an active part of the TSP community.”
Along with honoring those who have lost their lives in military service, the project supports Gold Star families, the surviving relatives, “by keeping the memory of the fallen alive.”
Founded in 2013, the Summit program is a nationally recognized nonprofit service organization. Gold Star families choose a stone from a place that bears some meaning to their loved one, like a family camp, a fire pit, the top of a mountain or the shore of a river.
“It’s a very tangible reminder of something that’s special to both the family members and to that hero,” Shoberg said.
To qualify to be in the program, a service member must have died Sept. 11, 2001, or later, and must have been active in service at the time. A stone in the case, commemorating American veterans from the Revolution through to 9/11, is a nod to those thousands of other men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice across the decades.
Families deliver their stone to The Summit Project to have it inscribed with the person’s name or initials, branch of service and rank, and years of life. The stones continue to be owned by the families, and are loaned to the program for display in the honor case, or to be checked out by those who take them on “tribute treks.”
Those carrying a stone on a journey must adhere to three Ls, Shoberg said: learning, launching, and letter writing.
They have to learn as much about the person the rock represents, such as through the project website or contacting people who knew the veteran.
They launch themselves on the trek, whether it’s a run, a motorcycle ride, or a trip to a veteran monument, carrying that stone and reflecting on who it symbolizes.
And finally, they write a letter to the veteran’s family, often by posting a message on the honored person’s page, on the Summit Project website. They ruminate on their trip, what they learned about the veteran, and what the experience meant for them.
“The best way to keep the memory alive is to tell the story about that particular hero, and make sure that their name is not forgotten,” Shoberg said.
Those stories get a lot of airtime, while the stones themselves log plenty of miles.
“They’ve gone to Daytona Bike Week, they’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, they’ve climbed Denali,” Shoberg said.
It was after climbing a mountain himself that David Cote founded The Summit Project. The Marine Corps veteran in 2012 joined Navy SEAL friends on a hike up Mt. Whitney, during which they carried stones that paid tribute to their recently-fallen comrades.
“The SEALs placed the stones in a secret crevice on the Whitney summit and I barely had enough time to snap a photo before we began our descent,” Cote states on the project website. “That image remained burned in my mind for about a full year until I had an idea.”
From that idea The Summit Project was born.
“David didn’t want it to be a one-time thing,” Shoberg explained. “The concept, then, of bringing it back down the mountain, passing it back to the family, keeping the circle going, is a major difference.”
In closing the ceremony, the Raymond resident kept that circle going by reading off the names of the service people whose names are within the honor case, mentioning their rank, line of service, hometown, and where and when they gave their lives.
“Part of keeping their memories alive is speaking their name aloud, and letting people know who they are,” he said.
Shoberg’s voice quivered with emotion at times as he read down the list, in order of when the person died. He paused a moment when he reached the name of Navy Special Operator Patrick Feeks of Gorham, who died in Afghanistan Aug. 16, 2012.
Like most of the others who are commemorated, Feeks was just in his 20s.
“I’m sorry,” Shoberg said quietly. “I’ve carried Pat’s stone twice in the past.”
A moment of silence followed the reading of the names. But thanks to the efforts of The Summit Project, the stories of those people ring loud and clear – as the symbols of their sacrifice roll on, inspiring one life after another.
Russ Shoberg, manager of the Summit Project’s honor case and a member of the organization’s board, speaks during a ceremony at Prince Memorial Library Feb. 8.
The Summit Project’s “honor case,” on display at Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland, contains stones that honor Maine military members who have died in the line of duty. Families of the deceased choose the stones from places that had meaning for that person.