Posted by Bob Martin

She arrived in a bus with a group of others from the Veterans Home in Scarborough, hunched over in her wheelchair, the clear oxygen lead clipped under her nose almost obliterated by her smile and bright eyes. Clear, bright blue eyes that drew you down to talk to her. Her handshake gripped you firmly in her soft hand. “Thank you for having us,” she said after I parked her at a table and helped her get situated. Her name was Norma Merrill, a veteran of World War II, who continued to smile as she told her story. She coded and decoded messages for the Navy in a job so secret that not only was she escorted to and from work, no one, not even her family, knew what her wartime task was until the Department of Defense finally declassified the war five years ago. “I knew the war was over when I sent out the messages about the Battle of the Bulge,” she said. Stationed in Europe, she had a special story to tell if she was captured, along with a song to sing to make the enemy think she was crazy. “They told me to sing dum diddy dum diddy dum dum,” she laughed. When I told Norma I had been drafted into the Army during Vietnam, she said, “You poor boys, sent over there to fight. Oh, I prayed for all of you.” 

The Holiday Inn By-the-Bay was filled with stories last Friday from veterans who served in every conflict since World War I, the war said to end all wars, the cessation of which, Armistice Day, formed the foundation of our current Veterans Day observance. Charlie Frair and Paul Tully led a team of Portland Rotarians who organized the largest Veterans Day luncheon ever sponsored by the club, with over 75 Rotarians who volunteered to implement the well-planned event. The Holiday Inn staff set enough tables to serve 328 guests, and extra chairs were set up for more. 


President John Curran welcomed television personality Erin Ovalle (pictured at right) to manage the ceremonies;



Denny Breau (pictured at left) provided music for the packed room;








the colors were presented by the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines (pictured at right); 






World War II Marine veteran Past President Bob Traill (pictured at left) led the Pledge of Allegiance; Kathy Grammer, assisted by trumpeter Betty Rines, directed the National Anthem; and Colonel Andrew Gibson, Senior Army Chaplain of the Maine National Guard, offered the invocation.





Gulf War vet Past President Kris Rosado saluted fallen comrades with a moving toast, while describing the special "Fallen Soldier" table (pictured at right) set up to honor those who gave their lives in battle.


Mayor Ethan Strimling (pictured at left) extended appreciation to veterans on behalf of the City of Portland and recognized several elected members of the Legislature and City Council, including our own Erik Jorgensen. Representatives of a variety of organizations who provide services and assistance to veterans were also invited to stand and be recognized, several of whom the Club has acknowledged with financial contributions.

Past President Russ Burleigh conducted the audience in the traditional rendition of the Armed Forces Medley, with veterans from each service standing as their military branch’s song was sung.

Major General John W. Libby (Ret.), Maine National Guard, thanked the Club for its “marvelous expression” of gratitude, and also recognized family members who were left at home when veterans deployed. “There are family sacrifices,” he said, “when the duties of four hands are taken up by two hands.” He added, “if you really want to thank a veteran, engage with the organizations that serve veterans.” Gen. Libby also pointed out that while Veterans Day celebrates the 6.6 percent of the U.S. population who have served in the military, over twelve percent of Mainers have been in the armed forces.

Captain Jonathan D. Bratten (pictured at right), Command Historian of the Maine National Guard helped put into perspective the service of Maine men and women in the armed forces, especially the 34,000 Mainers who served in World War I, with an interesting presentation focused on that war. He said that the WWI generation needed to be seen as an inspiration for all of us. “They knew we needed to be ready to serve,” he said. “But may we not be needed.”

“Thank you so much,” Norma said when lunch was over and I wheeled her to her bus to go back to Scarborough. “You don’t know how much this means to us.” Yeah, Norma, I think I do. Dum diddy, dum diddy, dum dum.