This 243rd anniversary of the original Independence Day provides an opportunity to look back at the many people who have fought to win and then keep our independence as a nation and our freedoms as people.
Hello, I’m State Senator Matt Pouliot of Senate District 15 in Kennebec County.
Even before Maine was officially Maine, her citizens made their desire for freedom known through their efforts and sacrifices. Of the four places and events that the U.S. Navy recognizes as a “Birthplace of the U.S. Navy,” two would not have happened without Mainers.
Way back in June 1775, local patriots Downeast in Machiasport seized a British cargo vessel and used it to attack its armed escort, the HMS Margaretta. The battle that resulted is considered the first naval battle in U.S. history and the first victory for the U.S. Navy, even though the U.S. itself didn’t declare its independence until a year later.
Two years later, another group of Maine patriots literally built a small navy of seven vessels out of trees in the forest along the shore of Lake Champlain. They used these boats to slow the approach of three British warships toward Fort Ticonderoga, forcing the British to retreat to Montreal for the winter.
During the delay until spring, thousands of local farmers and other colonists joined the Continental Army to oppose the British invasion, and the following summer, the colonists literally captured the entire British Army at the Battle of Saratoga, a huge turning point in the Revolutionary War.
Early in our nation’s history, two Henrys from Maine served as the nation’s chief military leader. Henry Knox of Thomaston was the very first Secretary of War under George Washington, and Henry Dearborn of Gardiner served as the nation’s fifth under Thomas Jefferson.
During the Civil War, Maine contributed more soldiers and sailors per capita to the Union armies and navy than any other northern state. More than 70,000 Mainers answered the call of duty in that war and 10,000 of them paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the union.
Though it is often referred to as the “Forgotten War,” the Korean Conflict cost Maine the lives of 242 of her sons to combat.
343 Mainers lost their lives in the Vietnam War and only eight states had a larger number of its citizens per capita killed in that war.
Since the creation of the Medal of Honor, 95 Mainers have been awarded our nation’s highest military honor for valor in wartime.
Sons and daughters of Maine who gave their lives for their country through the generations, rest today in National Cemeteries from Gettysburg to Normandy, in small family plots, and in large town burial grounds across the state.
At present, 11 Maine service personnel who never came home are officially listed as Missing in Action.
Maine workers have also contributed greatly to maintaining our freedom. From the liberty ships of World War II and today’s World Class destroyers made at Bath Iron Works to the outstanding work to build and maintain the Navy’s submarine fleet at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, the best craftspeople in the World provide the highly skilled work necessary to sustain our freedom.
Since the Navy began naming ships, 34 vessels have borne the name of a person or place from Maine.
As you plan your family cookout or attend a local parade or fireworks show this weekend, take a moment to remember the Founding Fathers who put their personal lives and fortunes in jeopardy just by signing the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia 243 years ago.
As you do, please also remember the men and women of Maine, past and present, who have served and are serving the cause of freedom here and overseas.
I’m State Senator Matt Pouliot of Augusta and I wish you and yours a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend.