Prentiss Memorial Honor Roll Committee and Friends
The 63rd "Blood and Fire" Infantry moved forward across the battlefield in Jebsheim, France, crawling along the ground, laying low and keeping alert. Twenty-six-year old Private First Class Vernon Worster saw explosions nearby, and could hear more incoming artillery. He knew from the sound that it was going to come close. Seeing what he took for a foxhole, he dove in head first.
In a jolting moment that would stay in his memory for sixty years, Worster realized he was upside-down and face to boots with an enemy soldier. "I just about killed myself getting out of there!" he says, "Only to discover that the other person was cool, dead."
Sixty-six Americans were killed in the Battle of Jebsheim, in which the 63rd successfully captured a German corps headquarters and approximately 450 German soldiers.
Vernon Worster, now 83, is the oldest living veteran in Prentiss, Maine. The day of the foxhole was the day after his 26th birthday, but he says he did not know that at the time. He was "preoccupied."
Worster sums up his war experience by borrowing words from others, beginning with famed crooner Tony Bennett, who was in the same division. "I read in Tony's book where he said â€˜Combat defies description,' and that's no lie. I've also read that â€˜no one should ever, ever have to try to live that way,' and that's true too."
Worster seldom discusses his time in the war, but recently, after some determined encouragement from his niece, he wrote some memories down. He let her read twelve pages of those recorded memories.
"I've always had respect for veterans," says Worster's niece, Belinda Raymond, "but it gives you a whole different respect to hear a story like that from someone you know."
In 2001, Raymond and several others actively involved themselves in doing something to make sure the veterans from the town of Prentiss are remembered. Together she and the others formed the Prentis Veteran's Memorial Honor Roll Committee & Friends (PHRC), who will soon place a permanent stone memorial at the Prentiss cemetery.
The work begain in August of 2001, when Belinda Raymond and her mother, Flora Curtis, noticed that the existing wooden Honor Roll, located in a local churchyard, was beginning to show signs of age.
The new stone monument will be at least the fourth honor roll. Curtis, working with another daughter, Tammie Hersom, handmade a previous honor roll years ago, but Maine's winters took their toll. That memorial was in turn replaced with the existing Honor Roll, which was built by David Mandravelis, also of Prentiss. Having seen three wooden memorials come and go, Belinda Raymond felt it was time to construct a stone memorial that would be more permanent
Prentiss is now unincorporated, so there was no municipal government to approach about the construction or maintenance of a new monument. Raymond therefore approached the Unincorporated Town of Prentiss Cemetery Association. She told them she was forming a committee to build a permanent Honor Roll, and the entire cemetery association joined the new committee. Members included Frederick and Flora Curtis, Eldon and Marie Worster, Maynard and Marie Irish, Samantha Osgood, John Osgood, and Sandra Hollifield.
The newly formed group quickly resolved to raise money and construct the memorial by the end of 2002. Their fund-raising goal was $7,000, and they wasted no time getting under way. A Fifty-Fifty Draw at the Springfield Fair in September 2001 netted the group their first $315. From then on, at least one fund-raiser or another has been in progress.
In October 2001, the group held a town-wide bottle drive. In November, they held a bake sale. In December, they approached local businesses and community leaders, who donated $2,112.00. In January, 2002 Wal-Mart granted the committee $500. In February, the group held a potluck supper and silent auction.
In May, the group put together a Hometown Musical Showcase, featuring performances by some of the veterans. Along with several musical groups, Country Music Hall of Famer Ginger Mae Dyer lent her voice to the effort.
By May 6, 2002, just nine months after resolving to install the monument, the PHRC had raised $5300, enough money to purchase a monument from La Pages Memorial Monument Service in Millinocket.
The fund-raising was not over, however, because two benches and three flagpoles were planned. Different individuals made donations to help with the flagpoles and flags, while the World of Flags store gave a discount and donated the Maine State flag. One of the benches was paid for by the friends and family of Delmont and Ronald Worster, in whose names it will be dedicated.
The committee decided to have the second bench dedicated in memory of PFC Lawrence Sibley. Sibley was a twenty-year-old machine gunner who died in Italy on May 29, 1944. Private Sibley was the only 20th century Prentiss veteran who did not return safely home.
PEOPLE HONORING PEOPLE
Belinda Raymond emphasizes that the gifts received were not just measured in dollars, but also in the efforts of the community. "I only had an idea," she says. "Without all of the wonderful individuals who gave so freely and became involved, it would still be just an idea. We all owe them much thanks."
The project was a labor of love that moved people to personal sacrifice. Retiree Frederick Curtis, Raymond's father, rolled his pennies to donate $50 to the effort.
Louise Worster (Vernon's wife) donated $200 of cash saved from money given to her as birthday presents. (Louise later gave an additional hundred dollars, over Raymond's objections that she had already given enough.)
Prentiss resident Susan Osgood crocheted two American Flag afghans, the first of which was for a fund-raising raffle. When Ginger Mae Dyer said she was disappointed not to have won the afghan raffle, Osgood crocheted her another as a gift. (Dyer proudly exhibits the afghan now, and when she received it, she donated another fifty dollars to the cause.) The names of other donors and participants are too numerous to mention.
"Every donation was freely and voluntarily given, " says Raymond, who proudly points out that no county, state, or other government money was used.
"FREEDOM IS NOT FREE"
The planning of the monument itself shows a reverence for its purpose, that of reminding Prentiss citizens of the cost of freedom. "Freedom is Not Free" is inscribed at the top of the honor roll.
The five-foot-by-four-foot monument is of polished smooth China Black stone with no flecks. The stone was chosen to weather Maine winters and because it will be simpler to keep clean. The lettering is in white lithachrome.
The Honor Roll Committee located the monument in the Butterfield Cemetery on Route 170 (Park Street) in Prentiss. Although several of the veterans listed on the roll are still living, placing the monument in the cemetery means that its maintenance will fall under the Cemetery Association's. Belinda Raymond is gratified to know that a permanent memorial will soon be in place. Her father, her grandfather, several uncles, her brother, her brother-in-law, and her nephew are all veterans, She is passionate in her appreciation for their sacrifices. "Do you want to be there?" she asks, challenging the listener. "Do you want to go through what they went through? I don't."
When the goal had been met and the monument ordered, one might have thought that things would quiet back down to normal. Maybe they might have, except for a conversation between two of the association members. "You know," Flora Curtis said to her daughter, "Webster (Plantation) doesn't have a veterans' honor roll, either..."