BANGOR, Maine — For most Americans, Veterans Day is a time for public thanks.
In Brewer and Bangor, that tradition was able to return to normal as sirens wailed, bells rang, and bands played downtown. Children pointed to and smiled at waving soldiers and veterans passing by.
The annual Veterans Day parade was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic, and crowds were asked to distance themselves when the parade returned in 2021. All seemed normal this go-around, but someone was missing.
Across town, one special Mainer couldn’t make it to the parade, but thanks were still very much in order.
Roy Ward served on multiple U.S. Navy ships during World War II. He served in the engine room, mostly — an incessantly loud and hot workspace.
Far from the din of war, Ward now resides at Maine Veterans Homes. He doesn't travel much these days, so others came to him on Friday.
Ward greeted his granddaughter-in-law and his great-granddaughter, who brought giant sugar cookies to share.
Behind them, Laurie Sidelinger walked into the room, and Ward's eyes lit up. Sidelinger is the board chairperson for Honor Flight Maine, a local chapter of a national nonprofit that raises funds to fly veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour the memorials built in their honor.
While it’s crucial to recognize this generation, whose numbers are dwindling, this was a social call.
The celebration was also necessary on this Veterans Day because it was also Ward's 103rd birthday. He was born on 11-11-1919.
Every year, Sidelinger visits Ward on his birthday, even during the height of the pandemic, when they could only wave through his window in the nursing home.
Sidelinger has helped get hundreds of Maine vets to D.C. on 22 flights and counting, but Ward was the first one for whom she acted as "guardian" back in 2016.
Guardians are volunteers who bring their veterans everywhere on the Honor Flight trip. They push their wheelchairs, make sure they have food and water, and even stay with them each night.
While she travels the state helping vets throughout the year, Veterans Day will always be Ward's day for Sidelinger.
"He is truly my hero," she said, as her eyes welled with tears. And Ward couldn't ask for more on his day.
"What do I want for my birthday?" he posed. "Just my friends around me."