U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery Chair Roy Woods salute a memorial wreath on Veterans Day. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

CARIBOU, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins returned to her hometown Friday to honor Maine’s military heroes for a special Veterans Day ceremony.

Collins, a native of Caribou, is no stranger to the stories of veterans’ sacrifices. Her father, the late Donald F. Collins, served as a member of the 87th infantry in Europe during World War II. He was wounded at age 19 during the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German counteroffensive as the Allied armies closed in on Berlin. He received two Purple Hearts for his service.

Collins told the crowd of hundreds Friday that, like many veterans, her father did not talk about his experiences in battle while she was growing up.

“It was not until I was in my 30s that I learned the details of that terrible day, when [ammunition] shells were landing all around him,” Collins said.

Collins’ father was on the initial committee that organized in 1998 to form the Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery, located on Lombard Road in Caribou.

Since its dedication in 2003, the cemetery has become the final resting place for 1,587 veterans and their spouses from across Aroostook County.

Collins praised Joyce Noble and her late husband John of Caribou for donating the 33.4 acres that now include honor walls, a POW/MIA tribute and a newly installed Battle Cross statue honoring fallen soldiers.

She also paid tribute to the nearly 110,000 U.S. veterans from Maine, which has one of the highest percentages of residents in the country with military service.

More than 100 soldiers from Maine received the Medal of Honor for their service, including four whom Collins highlighted from a Bangor Daily News article published in honor of Memorial Day this year.

Two of those soldiers are well known to people in Aroostook County.

Edward Dahlgren of Caribou worked as a seed potato inspector but is more famous for rescuing an American platoon during an attack from German forces in Oberhoffen, France, during World War II.

President Harry S. Truman presented Dahlgren with the Medal of Honor after the war, and a building at Limestone’s former Loring Air Force Base was named after him.

Loring’s namesake, Charles Loring of Portland, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1942, two years after graduating from high school. In 1952, Loring was serving as a jet fighter pilot during the Korean War when Chinese crews damaged his plane as they were pinning down nearby American troops.

“He dove his aircraft into the enemies and was killed instantly,” Collins said. “His actions saved countless American lives.”

Collins also recognized Maine’s first Medal of Honor recipient, Andrew J. Tozier, who fought at Little Round Top during the Civil War, and the state’s most recent honoree, Gary Gordon of Lincoln, who died in 1993 while defending the crews of two Black Hawk helicopters shot down in Somalia.

After her remarks, Collins and Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery Committee Chair Roy Woods placed a memorial wreath below the American flag and saluted.

Representatives from the local offices of U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden also delivered remarks during Friday’s ceremony.

The ceremony also featured members of the Caribou VFW, Loring Job Corps Color Guard, Stockholm’s American Legion Post 136, the Caribou Fire Department, Cub Scout Pack 184 and cemetery treasurer Fred Ormezzani, who performed taps.