There were 1,245 press releases posted in the last 24 hours and 220,172 in the last 365 days.

At a Biddeford cemetery, children plant flags, learn about sacrifice ahead of Memorial Day.

BIDDEFORD — Raoul Goulet led Beckett Jacques over to a flat marker in St. Joseph’s Cemetery and brushed fresh grass clippings from the stone.

“I’m going to give you the honor,” Goulet, 73, said.

The fourth-grader pulled the rubber band off the bundle of American flags in his hand. The name on the grave was 2nd Lt. Roger Edward Labonte, and the inscription indicated that he died in Vietnam on Dec. 8, 1966. He was just a couple of weeks shy of his 26th birthday.

“He was killed in action,” Goulet explained. He pointed out the coins stuck on the headstone: a dime left by someone who served with the veteran, a quarter by someone who was there when he died.

Beckett, 10, carefully selected a flag and knelt down to secure it next to the stone. Around him, his classmates were fanning out across the cemetery with their own flags in hand.

These fourth- and fifth-grade students from Biddeford Intermediate School and Biddeford Middle School had come to help the local Rotary Club place flags on more than 2,000 veteran graves in the cemetery for Memorial Day.

Teacher Lori Flynn has been bringing students here for years to mark the holiday.

“We’re teaching them respect and teaching them how to honor the importance of the day,” Flynn said. “It’s not just about barbecues.”

When the students walked up to the cemetery, they looked like their own Memorial Day parade, decked out in red, white and blue. Their teachers had given them a lesson the day before to prepare, and they had learned that this holiday is about honoring fallen soldiers. They got instructions on how to hold an American flag and how to be respectful in a cemetery. So they were ready when Martin Grohman, the president of the Biddeford-Saco Rotary Club and a city councilor, greeted them.

“Can anyone tell me the meaning of Memorial Day, why we’re doing this?” Grohman asked the students.

Emily Donovan, 11, raised her hand. A fifth-grader, she wore a sequined headband in the colors of the flag for the occasion.

“We’re doing this because these people served in the military, and they’ve protected us,” Donavan said. “This shows that we recognize them even though they passed away.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Grohman said.

Goulet was a combat photographer in the U.S. Army. He enlisted in 1968 and served for three years. He then returned to active duty from 1974 to 1988. He was stationed in South Korea, Germany and the United States during his career. When he returned to his hometown, he volunteered to help the American Legion decorate graves at St. Joseph’s. Some years, he came to the sprawling cemetery by himself and spent days completing the job. Now, volunteers and students get it done in a single morning.

“How many of you have any relatives in the military?” he asked the students.

Hands went up all through the crowd.

Goulet directed the students to their flags, and they spread out in groups with their teachers.

Among them was fourth-grader Camden Mondor, who walked with a school employee to the far end of the cemetery, reading the names on the graves as he passed them and carefully adding flags to each veteran’s. His great-grandfather served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and is buried here, but he wasn’t entirely sure how to find that grave. Instead he sought the bench marking the spot where his grandfather’s ashes will someday be buried. Donald Mondor is still alive, but his 10-year-old grandson wanted to recognize his 22 years in the Air Force. His parents have pointed out the spot to him when they’ve ridden bikes through the cemetery. Camden carefully put the flag into the ground next to the bench.

“Maybe he’d be impressed,” Camden said, breaking into a smile.

In less than two hours, the cemetery was dotted with flags, and one stood next to the marker that Goulet had pointed out, for Labonte.

Labonte grew up on a dairy farm. He had one brother, Richard Labonte, who served in the U.S. Navy and died in 2015. His nephew still lives on the family land today, and he inherited his legal name and his nickname from his uncle. Tim Labonte said a relative looked at young Roger one day and decided he looked more like a Timmy, and that was that – both for his uncle and for him.

His uncle was top of his class in high school and college, where he studied engineering. He joined the Army after he graduated.

“His original orders were to go to Germany,” Tim Labonte, 53, said. “He ended up making a good friend that was married and had children. The story I heard was since he was single and didn’t have a family, they got their orders changed, so he went to Vietnam rather than his friend.”

Jean Labonte, 84, said her husband did not talk about his brother very much. His grief was “overwhelming but self-contained,” she said. But they always visited him on Memorial Day, and a few years ago, one of her grandsons also made the field trip to the cemetery to place the flags for the holiday.

“Every year, we went to the grave,” she said.

The family has learned some things from an online memorial created by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. The virtual “Wall of Faces” includes photos and allows people to post memories. In one haunting message, a man remembers being nearby when the second lieutenant was killed. In another, a woman said she wrote him a letter at the urging of her teacher while he was overseas, and he wrote back to tell her about giving chocolate bars to local children. She was in fourth grade, the same age as the students who placed flags on his and other graves last week.

The children saluted and waved to Goulet when their work at St. Joseph’s was done. They walked back to their classrooms, some holding extra flags Goulet had given them.

Cars honked at the little procession, and Flynn said one of her students turned to her.

“I think the people are happy,” he told his teacher. “They’re very proud of us.”


Invalid username/password.

Please check your email to confirm and complete your registration.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

« Previous

Next »