BANGOR, Maine — Bangor celebrated its veterans Saturday on the 70th anniversary of the end of the bloodiest war in world history.
More than 200 veterans and their family members came together on the lawn outside the Cole Land Transportation Museum to mark the day Japan quit fighting in World War II, and to recognize their service and remember the soldiers who never made it home or have died since the war. It was part of the worldwide Spirit of ’45 commemoration.
One of the veterans was Lawrence Burleigh, 102, of Corinna, who attended Saturday’s event with his wife of 73 years, Dorothy.
Burleigh was in the U.S. Army Signal Corps stationed in Belgium when the war ended in the European theater.
“When the war there stopped, they put me on a boat and sent me to the other place,” Burleigh said, referring to the Pacific where the fighting raged on with Japan. But before he arrived, Japan had surrendered.
“They heard me coming,” Burleigh said with a chuckle.
He was on a ship when he and his fellow soldiers got the news. They celebrated. Some were so excited and relieved, they threw their uniforms, rucksacks and duffel bags into the ocean, knowing they would soon be going home. Burleigh said some later regretted losing those items.
Veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars as well as other American military conflicts also attended Saturday’s event.
Willis Martin, 84, of Brewer was in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, based in Alaska. When WWII ended, he was a 14-year-old living in Bangor.
“Everybody was pretty happy,” Martin said, recalling parades and huge gatherings downtown. It was also a somber time for his family, Martin said. His cousin, Ernest Martin Jr. of Old Town, was killed in the war.
Galen Cole, founder of the museum and one of Bangor’s best-known veterans, also spoke at the commemoration.
V-J Day, or Victory over Japan Day, celebrates the date Japan announced its intent to surrender, bringing an end to the slaughter of World War II. That conclusion came less than a week after the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on the island nation in hopes of avoiding a costly land invasion.
The U.S. officially commemorates the surrender of Japan on Sept. 2, the day Japanese officials signed formal documents aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Gov. Paul LePage attended the Bangor ceremony alongside first lady Ann LePage.
“It took a massive effort of American soldiers, men and women, who devoted their lives to protect our freedom and keep that great war off our land,” the governor told the crowd. “You are the greatest generation, and you earned it.”
About 113,000 Mainers served during WWII, according to state records. More than 2,500 were killed.
In statements released Saturday, Maine’s congressional delegation encouraged people to remember those sacrifices and show appreciation for the dwindling number of these men and women who are still alive today.
“On this 70th anniversary of victory in World War II, let us recommit ourselves to the spirit that guided our nation through its darkest days and that lights our way into the future,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said.
“[WWII veterans’] service and sacrifices contributed to international peace and stability and ensured the continued promise of the freedoms we enjoy today,” U.S. Sen. Angus King said.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.