American Legion Post 133 in Fort Kent, Maine, joined forces with a quadruple amputee and the state’s first lady for a benefit concert Aug. 9 to raise money for the Northern Maine Veterans Museum & Community Center.
The museum and center is a vision shared by Post 133 Commander Duane Belanger and Travis Mills, who lost both his arms and legs to an IED during a patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The event – Freedom Fest 2014 – was the first fundraiser for the project.
“There are people coming in from Connecticut, Massachusettes, New Hampshire, driving in from all over,” said Belanger, who estimated the turnout to be around 1,000 people. “It just goes to show that our cause is just and it is a valuable cause and it gives us the energy to continue. We’ll continue to build on this.”
Freedom Fest 2014 kicked off with a motorcycle run through Fort Kent, which borders Canada. The 100 motorcyclists wound their way into the concert venue where they were greeted by the Saluting Marine, Tim Chambers, and a group of Young Marines.
Later, Mills and first lady Ann LePage paracuted in to the middle of the concert area with members of the All Veterans Group parachute team. For Mills, it was his second jump since his injury. For LePage, it was her first – “it was amazing, just amazing,” she beamed moments after landing.
When Mills was wounded in April 2012, The American Legion was the first group to reach out to his family in his hometown of Vassar, Mich. Now, he is committed to giving back, often through his foundation.
“The Legion helped my family out when I was at Walter Reed,” said Mills, a member of Post 400 in his Michigan hometown. “The Legion was the first group to reach out to my parents to ask what they could do to help. I didn’t have legs yet, so they helped get the ramp set up so I could get inside and be with my family. The Legion put on a couple of benefit dinners for my family. They’re always calling to ask if there is any more help they can give. It’s always great to have that in situations like this.”
LePage is committed to working with the Legion and Mills, who is moving to Maine, on the project. “I think it is so important to teach our young kids and the next generation to not take it for granted. It means everything to be free. We need to just acknowledge our men and women in uniform and what they go through.”
The concert featured 10 bands, including a Johnny Cash impersonator, Madison Rising and the Thomas Nicholas Band. The event represented the first significant step toward making the veterans center a reality, which is what drew the crowd of veterans and supports of the U.S. armed forces.
Dale Plough, who calls himself a strong advocate of veterans, drove 500 miles from his home in Mendon, Mass.
“I came because this is a good cause to support our veterans,” Plough said. “That’s always been a big issue with my family. And that was essentially the reason, along with being able to see Madison Rising.”