Respect for the Fallen

The four retirees stand proudly around their comrade_s grave. From left to right_ Sgt. William Caron, Cpl. Arnold Gahagan, Trooper Kim Espling and Cpl. Bert Ouellette. Not seen, Troop F leader Brian Harris.

Just like he’s done thousands of times before, Hubert Ouellette laces up his boots.  The state police issued black leather is cracking, showing their wear.  He’s suited up for his job many times, but never for a task like this.

Temperatures circling zero degrees and waist-deep snow could not stop Maine State Police Troop F.  Four retired officers and one active dug out their snowshoes, an extra pair of socks and a few holiday wreaths.  Paying no attention to the cold, the group honored lost officers by visiting their graves for the holidays and leaving the wreaths behind.

Retired officers Cpl. Arnie Gahagan of Caribou, Cpl. Hubert Ouellette of Caribou, Trooper Kim Espling of Woodland, Sgt. Bill Caron of Fort Kent and current Troop F leader Lt. Brian Harris of Houlton ventured out on Dec. 13 to decorate the headstones of their fallen brothers.  Harris arranged the event, and the four retirees made it happen.

They visited eight graves at six different cemeteries.  All graves belong to fallen members of Troop F.  Ouellette’s wife Janet speaks to the bond of troop members.  “The wives, the children and the families of these guys are so close knit and always have been.  So few understand what we go through.  For these five guys to go out in the cold to do something so kind– it’s like they’re doing it for the family.”

Troop F members both active and retired still meet regularly.  They have monthly breakfasts, holiday parties or formal dinners that spark conversations that last long into the night.

While walking, the five men exchanged war stories.  They laughed as they remembered their fallen.

“At each grave we’d take a short break,” Ouellette said.  “Once we caught our breath, we would talk about each guy, tell a story or two.  And every time we ended up laughing.  State police are a unique bunch.  We have dealt with and seen so many bad things.  It really makes life easier when you can laugh through the bad memories.”

Snow was so deep in some areas that the officers were forced to dig out the stones: not a challenge for these guys.  Harris led the way with snowshoes.  The other men followed in his tracks.  Approximately eight hours of walking in knee-deep snow would not be an easy task for young men.  But the hardened members of Troop F trotted on.  Many of them would serve today if asked.  Although the weather was discussed, there were no complaints about the cold or snow–the toughest of the tough.

“Eagle Lake was by far the worst,” Ouellette admitted after the walk.  “It was at least a quarter mile of snow beyond your knees, and it was all uphill.  There were no roads or trails at any of the cemeteries either.  Brian walked ahead of us in snowshoes and the four of us tried to stay in his footprints.”

A gesture of both holiday giving and respect for a brother, the wreaths represent honor.  The men still fortunate enough to be spreading the wreaths are up for the job.  As Janet Ouellette said, its like they’re doing it for family.