An inquisitive 4-year-old Mainer wonders if Jewett Williams, the Maine Civil War veteran whose peripatetic journey from Oregon to Maine has garnered attention internationally, would like chicken McNuggets from McDonald’s.
If not, would Jewett at least want a Happy Meal?
A few days before Jewett arrived at Kittery, Maine Patriot Guards ride captain Mike Edgecomb invited Columbia Falls-based Wreaths Across America to participate in transporting Jewett through Maine. The non-profit Wreaths Across America supplies hundreds of thousands of Maine-assembled Christmas wreaths that are placed on veterans’ graves across the United States each December.
The WAA also provides other services, such as a Veterans Transportation Program.
Wreaths Across America agreed to join the effort to transport Jewett in Maine, said Wayne Merritt, an Air Force veteran who is vice chairman of the organization’s board. He also manages the Veterans Transportation Program.
When a prior commitment kept Merritt from meeting Jewett at Kittery, WAA Events Coordinator Lil Charron went with the organization’s Chevy Suburban. Originally from southern Maine, she went to “Brunswick on Saturday [August 20] for the Run For The Fallen. I went on Sunday to catch up with Jewett at Kittery.”
A Patriot Guard Rider, Charron and her 4-year-old grandson, Hunter, watched as PGRs and other volunteers (including uniformed Civil War re-enactors) escorted Jewett’s cremains in an Amercan flag-wrapped box across a Piscataqua River bridge. Jewett was transferred to the custody of Maine-based Patriot Guard Riders during a ceremony held at John Paul Jones Memorial Park in Kittery.
This was the first time that the 173-year-old Jewett had returned to Maine since leaving in 1871. He and several accompanying artifacts, including his photo and a 20th Maine Infantry Regiment flag, were entrusted to Charron for the night.
Jewett was in excellent hands.
Hunter was getting hungry. “I can tell you [that] Jewett went to McDonald’s for the first time,” Charron said. Hunter, “who had lots of questions” about the soldier in the Suburban, ordered a Happy Meal when his grandmother went through the drive-up lane at the Kittery McDonald’s.
Hunter wondered if the soldier would like McNuggets. With his meal ordered, Hunter “wanted to know if the soldier could get a Happy Meal, too,” Charron said.
She smiled at the memory.
The inquisitive Hunter posed other questions about Jewett. His curiosity satisfied, he finally asked, “Nanny, how did you get that soldier in that box?”
Charron explained that Jewett “had passed away a long time ago and that we were responsible for transporting him” to Togus.
That night, Jewett stayed with Charron in southern Maine. On Monday, August 22 he rode with her (without Hunter) to meet his escort riders at the north-bound Maine Turnpike weigh station in York. The Maine State Police opened the weigh station so Jewett’s convoy could assemble there.
After holding a safety briefing and reviewing the route to Togus, the Patriot Guard Riders rolled out with Charron and Jewett promptly at 11 a.m. “It was all timing,” Charron said, explaining that Jewett was scheduled to arrive at Togus at 1 p.m.
“I’d say we had at least 75 motorcyclists with us when we took off that day,” she said. The riders in front of the Suburban were those who had escorted Jewett from Appomattox.
Turning off the turnpike at Exit 109 in Augusta, the convoy rolled along Western Avenue, through the two Augusta rotaries (temporarily closed by police so the riders could stay together), and east on Route 17 to the traffic light at the Togus main entrance.
Charron delivered Jewett safely to the VA hospital, where he was ceremonially honored. Then she took him across the Kennebec River to the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta, where he will reside until the Patriot Guard Riders transport him to Hodgdon for burial on September 24.
Wayne Merritt and Wreaths Across America will transport Jewett to Hodgdon that day.
“I had the honor to escort the gentleman home [through Maine], where he should be,” Charron said. “I was privileged to be a small part” in the highly coordinated volunteer-run campaign that brought Jewett from Oregon to his home state.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.