Blog Archives

A Day to Remember on Westport Island

Thank you to all who serve

bluestarflag Westport Island, though small, has a large history of serving its country — dating back to the Revolutionary War.

Maybe noticed, maybe not, one Islander “who served” greets us when we vote and when we gather to celebrate, discuss and come together as neighbors. A flag and a photograph remember him: Donald Knight. Honored by his parents, Knight is memorialized by both a photograph and a blue star flag at the front of the Town Hall.

Blue star flags, the “War Mother’s Flags”, became an unofficial symbol of a child in the service in WWI. During WWI and WWII, many of the flags were hand made by mothers across the nation symbolizing the service of a child. The Service flag was also displayed by organizations — like our town — to honor members serving during a period of war or hostilities. Today, we recognize Donald Knight for his service in WWII as the poster child for those who have served their country…

A newspaper obituary of Donald Knight provides the following context for our Town Hall remembrance…

Donald F. Knight, “Bunker Hill” Casualty, Was Machine Shop’s Second War Fatality

Donald Francis Knight, M.M. 2/c, son of Mr. and Mrs. Lester H. Knight of Bath, was killed in action in the Pacific, when the carrier on which he was serving was bombed by the Japs on May 11, according to word received by his parents from the Navy Department. Donald was buried at sea on May 12, with full military honors.

Donald, who was a B.I.W. machinist, and the Machine Shop’s second fatal casualty, had taken part in 12 major battles before he was home on leave last January, and had been to Saipan, Link, Leyte, Negros, Wake, New Hebrides, Rabaul, Tarawa, Kavieng, Kuajalein, Guam, Peleliu, etc.

He was inducted into the U.S. Naval Reserve June 21, 1943, and after receiving boot training at Newport, R.I., he was assigned to an aircraft carrier and left for overseas on Sept. 3, 1943.

Besides his parents, he leaves a daughter, Donna Larraine, who was one year old on May 26, and who lives with her grandparents.

Knight (748x800)

Donald Knight’s parents were Lester and Marcia White Knight. Lester Knight grew up on Westport. Although Donald was born in Bath, he married Mary Jane Greenleaf of Westport. Based on the donation of the photograph, the flag and Donald’s military name and rank tags to the Town of Westport Island, it is clear that the family’s psychological home was on the Island. We are proud to call them ours.

On this Memorial Day, thank you Donald Knight and to all who have served and to those who now serve…

Westport Island Celebrates Vera Cleaves

Happy 100th Birthday to a great lady!

card with boston post cane pinYesterday, Vera Cleaves turned 100. She became the first recipient of Westport Island’s newly acquired Boston Post Cane. The cane will be displayed at the Town Office with a plaque commemorating Vera’s stature as Westport Island’s oldest resident. She was given a pin attesting to this place of honor in our community.

Despite hail and pouring rain, friends and family turned out to celebrate Vera at an informal “party” at the Ship’s Chow Hall in Wiscasset hosted by owner Tina Fitzsimmons. Lincoln County News reporter, Charlotte Boynton, was on hand to record the event.

Vera on boat sitting in her grandfather's lapSince she was eight years old, Vera has been a part of Westport Island visiting her grandparents’ camp overlooking the Sasanoa River. On her first visits to the Island around 1922, the Steamer Wiwurna was a primary mode of transportation to the Island; Black Friday and the Great Depression had not yet occurred; and the Great War was not yet a part of history. Vera has seen a lot of history go under the bridge; she has played a groundbreaking role in some of it.

Vera has lived her life with distinction as a veteran of World War II and as an educator. When the Second World War broke out in Europe, she volunteered with the Red Cross in Boston becoming an ambulance driver part-time while working in the actuarial department at John Hancock. Three months after it was created in 1943, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps Private Vera in uniform, 1943(WAC). From basic training, she was sent to Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY, the “Wings of West Point.” There, she learned to fly the Army’s AT-6 as part of her training to teach coursework in flight maintenance to U.S army aviation recruits and West Point cadets. She also instructed fellow WACs serving alongside her in physical fitness and marching – all 123 of them. She served the duration of WWII at the West Point airfield as one of the pioneering women who served with their male peers in the US Armed Forces.

After the war, Vera earned an education degree at Pennsylvania’s Millersville State Teachers College on the GI Bill. She was the only woman training in the industrial arts and drafting program. Her wartime credentials, along with her age, allowed her to once again break new ground in the workplace. Progressive school systems in the New York City area and Philadelphia that “saw the future” heavily recruited Vera as a female role model making her way in a man’s field.

During 45 years as an educator, teaching in Philadelphia, New York, Massachusetts and Maine, Vera changed with the times. After achieving her Master’s Degree in Education at Penn State, she moved into school administration and college-level education instruction – always keeping a hand in industrial arts. As an administrator, she created and tested educational programming for exceptional and gifted children. Preparing young people with practical skills and knowledge to take on the challenges of the real — and very dynamic — world has always been her passion.

She brought that passion back to Maine with her.  Past students and educators in Gardiner, Bristol, Millinocket and Boothbay Harbor may remember Miss Cleaves and have stories to share.

Vera’s mother gave her the following motto on a postcard that she’s carried with her since she went away to college – perhaps an insight into what has moved her as an adult in these last hundred years…

Pluck.
Pluck will win – its
average is sure.
He wins the fight who
can the most endure.
Who faces issues.
he who never shirks.
Who waits and
watches and who
always works.

Copyright 1906 by M.T. Sheahan, Boston

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