Maine’s Native American veterans to be celebrated on June 21

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Maine’s Native American veterans to be celebrated on June 21

Community Author: Linda Swackhamer
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Omaha Beach artwork to be unveiled at ceremony

Thursday, June 21, is Native American Veterans Day in Maine, and an event celebrating the role of Native American veterans will be held at 6 p.m. at 1 Down St., Indian Island. All are welcome. One Down St. is the home of much-decorated Penobscot veteran Charles Norman Shay, and the site of a tipi museum commemorating his experiences as a member of the Big Red One on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The site will now include a kiosk and new artwork by noted Penobscot artist Tim Shay, his nephew, to be unveiled at this ceremony.

John Baldacci signed a bill in 2009 to establish June 21 of each year as Native American Veterans Day in Maine. Baldacci and other distinguished guests like Sen. Angus King, and Sen. Susan Collins have been invited to the event. Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis will attend, and members of the community will offer honor songs and tributes to the veterans.

A new sculpture by artist Tim Shay will be unveiled that completes a connection to Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. A matching artwork rests in a Native American memorial in the village of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, of a granite turtle facing west to Indian Island, and the new turtle artwork faces east to Normandy, 3100 miles apart. The turtle, a personal totem for Charles Shay, links prayers from Indian Island to Omaha Beach. The tipi at Down Street houses a veterans museum, showcasing the many honors and experiences of Charles Shay. In addition, an informative kiosk is being built.

This installation illustrates the service to the United States of Native American veterans like Charles Shay, who will be 94 years old later this month. In April 1943, after graduation from Old Town High School, Charles was drafted into the US Army and trained as combat medic. Pvt. Shay was assigned to an assault battalion in the first wave of attack on June 6, 1944. Having rescued drowning wounded comrades under enemy fire, he received the Silver Star. Shay was captured and spent a month in a prisoner of war camp. In Fall 1945, after the war ended, he was awarded four bronze battle stars and demobilized. Shay also later served in Korea. In 2007, he received the Légion d’Honneur from President Nicolas Sarkozy at the French Ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC., for his heroic duty to France.

Native Americans have served in the U.S. Armed Forces in every major military conflict since the Revolutionary War and in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group, according to The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. All are welcome to Indian Island to attend this event honoring those who served, and to visit the museum and installation of maps, awards and artwork.

Contact James Francis, the Penobscot Nation’s Tribal Historian at for further information.