CUMBERLAND — If you have been in a war and felt the fear of knowing the next moment could be your last, there are some things you can never put aside, never forget.
Wilfrid E. Hebert, 89, was all too aware of that fact after he enlisted in the service in 1942 and became a member of the Army Air Corps' 48rd Bomb Group based in Italy.
Hebert served as a flight engineer on B-17s for 18 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe and survived with the rest of his crew when their B-17 was shot down on his last mission while flying over Landeck, Austria. He was liberated from a German prisoner of war camp as the war came to a close in 1945 and returned home to civilian life.
All these year later, Hebert carries the war with him and the most difficult of those memories remain vivid in his mind.
His war days are the reason he regularly stops by the town's Cumberland Monastery property and spends a little time at a monument he worked to have placed there back in 2000.
The granite monument is dedicated to "the combat veterans of all wars that fought, suffered and died so that America can be free."
While visiting the monument this week, Hebert said he had wanted to honor the combat veterans of all of America's wars, from the Revolutionary War up to the Middle East today, because of the sacrifices those soldiers make in fighting a war. He saw the costs of the battlefield himself on his missions above Europe and he also knows those costs are still being paid by the nation's combat soldiers today.
"This monument honors those service members today and it will honor combat veterans of the future as well," Hebert said.
The monument, located near the entrance and front grounds of the town's library at the Monastery, was erected with the help of former Cumberland Mayor Francis Gaschen and fellow combat veterans like Hebert.
Hebert also wanted to honor the soldiers lost in battle, especially those who never returned home, and wrote a poem to be inscribed on the back of the stone. The two lines read: "No more shall you wander, no more will you roam. The ground this stone is laid on, you can now call your home."
Hebert explained that he had been thinking of the lost soldiers as souls without a home when he wrote the poem.
"They had no place to call home and now they are invited to come here and now they have this place to call a home," he said.
Hebert came up with a small addition to the tree-shaded place of remembrance at the Monastery after stopping by there about a year after it was dedicated.
He found an elderly woman standing at the site in the midst of an emotional moment. Hebert asked her if anything was wrong and she responded that she had been remembering a relative lost to war. The sight of her just standing at the monument sparked Hebert to get a stone bench installed in front of the monument so that someone could sit while spending a little time there.
Hebert, a resident of Cumberland, stops by himself from time to time and will give a salute and say a prayer to those experiencing combat when he does.
He thinks of his own time in the war now and again but knows that can come with a cost even today. There are times when emotions from the war can be more of stress than usual and Hebert doesn't hesitate to get assistance from the staff at the VA when he needs it. He also stays in touch with surviving members of his old air crew and hears of the challenges aging has brought for them. But he also knows that he has survived the greatest of challenges placed before his generation and that it encountered in all the years since.
With today being Veterans Day — the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of the new century — Hebert hopes to make another trip out to the monument and spend a little time there, a few moments of remembering.