Maine’s first Gold Star Families Memorial to be unveiled

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BRUNSWICK — A local garden club has planted the seed for a statewide milestone.

On June 23, the Harpswell Garden Club will dedicate the first Gold Star Families Memorial Marker in Maine at Brunswick Landing’s P-3 Park.

The Gold Star Families Memorial Marker Program pays tribute to the families of American servicemen and women who died while serving in the military.

Suzanne Bushnell, project chairman for the Gold Star Families Memorial Marker and former president of the Harpswell Garden Club, said there are 29 markers around the country. The only other state in New England that has one is Massachusetts.

During Saturday’s ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m., Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, will be the keynote speaker.

The Harpswell Concert Band will open the event, which is expected to last approximately 35 minutes, with patriotic music. Patti Smith, founder of the Illinois-based nonprofit organization America’s Gold Star Families, will also give remarks.

The ceremony is open to the public, but Bushnell recommends that attendees bring their own lawn chairs. The week before the ceremony, she expected 140 people to attend.

The marker, which has already been installed at the site and will remain covered until the ceremony, is a plaque indicating it is “a tribute to Gold Star Families whose loved one paid the ultimate price defending the United States of America.”

Although the plaque is only roughly 3 feet by 3 feet, it stands on a 7-foot tall post.

Bushnell, who is also the immediate past president of the Garden Club Federation of Maine, said she volunteered the Harpswell Garden Club to spearhead the effort to bring a memorial marker to Maine.

In 2015, she said, National Garden Clubs, the organization which comprises 50 state garden clubs, agreed to sponsor a program for the Gold Star markers at the request of America’s Gold Star Families.

According to the U.S. Army website, the significance of the Gold Star in reference to military families originated during World War I, when people with a loved one in the military would hang banners called Service Flags in their homes. Blue stars on the flags represented immediate family members fighting in the military. If the loved one died, the blue star would be replaced with a gold one.

Bushnell said her club’s sponsoring of the marker made sense, because of its prior connection to the military. In 1968, The Harpswell Garden Club also created the Memorial Gardens at the Brunswick Naval Air Station’s chapel, which will also celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

Because of that, the reception at the Brunswick Naval Museum following the marker dedication will serve as a sort of “dual celebration.”

She added The Harpswell Garden Club is also the largest garden club in the state of Maine, with 151 members. The majority of members come from Harpswell, with about one-third hailing from Brunswick and the rest from other Mid-Coast towns such as Topsham and Freeport.

The group fundraised to purchase the $1,500 marker, which Bushnell said was made possible through donations. It also planted the garden surrounding the marker.

Ultimately, she added, members of the group feel connected to the cause.

“There are many people in the garden club that have had a family serve in the military,” she said. “They are patriotic and wanted to do something that they felt strongly about.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

This story was updated June 22 to indicate Gold Star Families Memorial Markers honor fallen service members’ families. 

On June 23, the Harpswell Garden Club will dedicate the first Gold Star Memorial Marker in the state of Maine at Brunswick Landing’s P-3 Park.

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