‘At 89, he is still one of my greatest heroes’
by Devin Pelletier
Jun 19, 2012 | 1186 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Edmund Theriault still fits in his original uniform.  - SJVT photo / Don Eno
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Opinion Piece

Special to the Valley Times

(NOTE: The following is part of a written speech that Devin Pelletier, son of Aileen and Kurt Pelletier, delivered as honor essayist at Windham High School on Sunday, June 10. In the speech, sent to us by his high school, he talked about his Pépère Edmund Theriault, Sr. of Fort Kent.)

June 13 edition - I am honored to say that I am going to be following in the footsteps of the great Americans sitting in the audience. Later this month, I will be going to the United States Air Force Academy … After three congressional interviews, I received nominations from each, and I got a phone call on my Pépère’s 89th birthday from Senator Collins congratulating me of my appointment to the Air Force Academy

… I will be the 25th member of my family that will be in the military. The military is not just a tradition, it is a way of life and it has been so for generations.

Eli Theriault was a pilot in Europe during World War II. His plane was shot down, and he was captured by the Germans. He spent 16 months in a small concrete cell where he was tortured and malnourished. Finally Germany surrendered, and he was set free. The whole time that he was imprisoned, he never gave any American secrets. He only gave his name and rank. What really kept him alive was the hope that he had to see his family. Sixteen months, he never gave up hope. He kept on fighting with unbelievable determination. I am proud to say that he is my great-uncle, and he is still alive today.

Edmund Theriault joined the Army Air Corps when America intervened in World War II. He went to pilot school - only able to speak French, no English at all, but that was the way it was in Fort Kent. He learned how to fly a plane before he knew how to drive a car. He performed so well in pilot school that he could have been an instructor, but he would rather fly. He could have chosen to be a pilot, navigator or bombardier. He chose to pilot the Boeing B-17, the flying fortress. Flying this plane as part of the Second Emergency Air Squad in the Pacific saved countless lives because his plane would drop life rafts for anyone stranded in the water. My Pépère was only 20 when he accomplished this. Now at 89, he is still one of my greatest heroes.

Just a few weeks ago, my Pepere got ready for the annual Fort Kent Memorial Day parade. He still fits in his original uniform from World War II. I drove him to the parade, where he is a prominent figure. On the way to the parade, we talked mostly about the B-17s and his training. At one point of the trip, he said, “It was a great life.”

Our conversation stopped for a couple minutes, and he eventually went on to talk about the moose tracks in his driveway, but those five words stuck with me. While he was telling me his stories, I knew how proud he was. I saw him in his uniform and he stood taller and he just glowed. It was an honor for him to serve America.

What he said, “It was a great life,” it caught me off guard, but then it really started to sink in. Serving in the military should be a great life because of the honor that one gets for protecting millions of other people. I have heard stories from many of my relatives and at the end of each came to the same result, it was worth it. A soldier should have a great life because they are the ones who are allowing every other American to have a great life …

Once anyone is part of the military, they are always in the military, and I experienced this at this year’s Memorial Day celebration ... As the wreaths were placed at the memorials, my Pépère said what he has said for many years, “These flowers may wither and die, but the spirit of which they are a symbol of shall remain until the end of time.” Just this one line gets at what it truly means to give yourself to something bigger ...