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May 29—LEWISTON — Joyce Richmond admits she was struggling following the death of her daughter, Denise Mikolajacyk, while on active duty in the Air Force in 2009.
She credits a note she received from Bethel Shields inviting her to join the Gold Star Mothers with helping her overcome her grief.
"When the Gold Star Mothers get together, they talk and tell their stories, how they feel and what's been good for them and what's not been good," Richmond said. "It saved me. I was not in tough shape, but I was not a comfortable person. Getting together with the Gold Star Mothers was really life saving."
With the help of Richmond and Shields, the L&A Veterans Council dedicated a new stone monument to Gold Star Families during a Memorial Day Weekend ceremony Saturday morning at Veterans Memorial Park.
The new monument sits atop a mound above the Gold Star Mother's memorial, a large granite framed star filled with marigolds on the mound's incline.
More than 200 people attended the ceremony, including numerous veterans, Civil War reenactors from the 20th Maine, the Legion of Honor color guard from the Kora Shriners and Boy Scouts from Troop 116.
Laurie Sidelinger sang the national anthem, and James Thibodeau of the Scottish Rite played bagpipes. Chaplains representing area veterans organizations read the names of their members who died in the past year.
Neither mayor was in attendance, but a member of the city council from each city, Katherine Boss from Auburn and Michel Lajoie of Lewiston, gave brief remarks. Representatives for Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Jared Golden also spoke.
A bench was also dedicated in the memory of Dr. Will Bredenberg, who served in the U.S. Navy. James Dean carried his ashes and his photo during the ceremony.
The focus was on the Gold Star Families.
Gold Star Mothers Richmond and Shields and Gold Star Father Terry Knowles helped to unveil the new monument.
Bethel and Thomas Shields lost their son, Lt. James B. "Jeb" Shields in 1991 when two P-3 Orions collided off the coast of San Diego, killing all 27 people on board the two planes.
Jeb, who graduated from Bates College in 1987, was working as a stockbroker when he visited a recruiting office. Five days later he was on a plane to Pensacola, Florida, his mother said. He graduated first in his class in navigation. He was stationed at Naval Air Station Moffett Field in California when he died.
Shields became active in the Gold Star Mothers and even served as president of the state chapter.
"It's a support system, especially at the beginning," Bethel Shields said. "It's been 30 years for us now. If I can be of help to someone else, that's good. I'm happy to do that."
One person she helped was Richmond., who lost her daughter, a master sergeant, in 2009 when she died suddenly in Nebraska during her 26th year in the Air Force. She said they had exchanged emails the day before her daughter died.
"She had served in the Middle East with IEDs going off all around her," Richmond said. "You sort of expect her to come home in little pieces in a box. As it turned out, she didn't even know what hit her. A medical thing."
"It was bad. It was very, very difficult," she added. "The first couple of weeks it was the funeral and the Air Force and getting people together. You're busy. The first couple of weeks were really hard sometimes. At least your mind was on other things. But then everyone is gone, and you're alone.."
That's when she first heard from Shields. Richmond calls her time with the Gold Star Mothers a "godsend."
Gold Star Mothers, founded in 1928 has expanded to now include all family members — siblings, aunts, uncles and fathers — hence the Gold Star Family monument.
Richmond has filled her time since her daughter's death with the Gold Star second mission, helping numerous veteran organizations, including the L&A Veterans Council and the Marines Corps League.
"My children keep telling me I have to slow down and I keep saying if I slow down then they're going to catch up," Richmond said. "But also, what would I be doing if I didn't do this kind of stuff. God knows I get a lot more hugs this way."