A small group gathered in the Coe Room of the Memorial Union on Thursday, Nov. 15 to hear stories of Maine servicemen in World War I. First Lt. Jonathan Bratten of the Maine State Guard spoke of men who served in the gruesome war.
“I really admire the spirit of Maine soldiers because it really reflects the spirit of the state. Being very resourceful, being individualistic but being a part of a community … being very rugged and self-dependent but everyone has good friends,” Bratten said.
During his research, Bratten discovered that, in contrast to World War II, information about World War I as it relates to campus is hard to find. There are several books and memorials of World War II but Bratton had to do independent research to gather information about Maine servicemen in World War I.
He visited small-town libraries and found descendants of the University of Maine servicemen to collect old diaries, pictures and paraphernalia relating to their service.
“I got fascinated because it’s area not a lot of people study,” Bratten said. “Unlike World War II or the Civil War there’s not like a gazillion books written on it. So, you can actually have original research opposed to going and reading another book to see what someone wrote on somebody else’s book.”
Bratten hoped to remind the community of the sacrifices made by people in World War I. He described it as one of the bloodiest wars in history with casualties in the millions. Out of the carnage and lost lives was a sense of camaraderie between the people who served beside one another, according to Bratten.
Some of the most notable servicemen in World War I are those who came from the UMaine. These soldiers served briefly in the Spanish-American War then returned home and enlisted in World War I in 1917.
The 28-person band was made up of a majority of UMaine students with a few from outside the university. After their training in Massachusetts, they shipped out to England then traveled to France.
Two of their members were sent away to be trained as captains soon after they arrived in Neufchateau, France for training. They worked on the front lines as stretcher-bearers carrying injured soldiers off the field.
By the end of the war in 1918 the band had dwindled down to 16 men. When the end of the war was declared, the band played for the soldiers on their week-long journey back to the Montigny-Le-Roi region of France.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Hayden, a fourth-year international affairs student, is a Maine veteran from Litchfield, Maine, and the former president of the University of Maine Veterans Association.
Hayden has served in conflict zones and understands how important camaraderie is when people are in life threatening situations. That’s where he feels he can partially relate to the service of people in World War I but is humbled by the sacrifices they made that he didn’t have to.
“To me service is all about camaraderie and serving with other people. I mean, I’ve lost friends, I lost one of my best friends on a deployment and so it’s the connection between my service and that service is probably there. It’s probably in the camaraderie and just the sacrifice,” Hayden said.
Hayden asked Bratten to speak about the First World War to commemorate the men that sacrificed their lives for a cause they thought was just.
There are 262 UMaine students who have lost their lives in service dating back to the Spanish-American War.
These soldiers are remembered in three plaques on campus, the Memorial Room of the Memorial Union and the Memorial Gym, which was dedicated to the soldiers that lost their lives in the Spanish-American War and World War I.
A digital Book of Memory with information about UMaine’s fallen veterans was recently unveiled on campus. The new book is interactive and allows people to see a photo and small biography of a UMaine students who lost their life in conflict.
The UMaine Veterans Association assists veterans enrolled at UMaine and helps prospective student veterans. Located in Room 143 in the Memorial Union, the association helps veterans with various aspects of university life, from finding housing to adjusting to student life.