Maine Heroes are NOT Forgotten. I’ve been thinking a lot about the service members from Maine who died in the line of duty and in the service and defense of this country since September 11, 2001.
My name is Major David J. Cote. I’m an active-duty Marine Corps officer, an Iraq war veteran and a proud native Mainer. Over Memorial Day weekend 2013, I officially created The Summit Project. I launched this website and visited Maine to publicly share a vision for a unique project to honor and sustain the memories of our state’s newest war veterans and the faithful spirit of all Mainers — of whom one in seven are veterans, among the highest concentrations in the nation.
“The Summit Project (TSP), a nationally recognized, Maine based, 501c3 service organization started by Bangor native, Major David Cote in 2013, is a living memorial that pays tribute to fallen service members from Maine who have died since 9/11/2001. The mission of The Summit Project is to honor Maine’s newest war casualties and the faithful spirit of all Mainers.”
Unlike any project in America, The Summit Project collects stories and stones that uniquely represent the state’s fallen heroes and allows the communities they died for to honor them through action. Volunteers learn about our fallen heroes and then elect to carry memorial stones on tribute treks across Maine and across the world. These memorial stones, carefully chosen by the surviving families to represent their loved ones, combined with the stories of our heroes become the precious cargo of our tribute treks. Together the stones and stories of our fallen are carried by volunteers who ensure their memories remain alive. The memories of our fallen have already traversed the United States and summited dozens of peaks around the world to include Katahdin, Cadillac, Kilimanjaro and Everest. TSP has received national news attention and the official endorsements from every Maine delegate to the U.S. Congress as well as the First Lady of the United States. We hope other states will follow Maine’s model to create their own chapter of The Summit Project and honor the fallen heroes from their communities. We are proud of our motto: We carry their stone for the trek, but we carry their story for a lifetime.
Each day, new participants are joining TSP’s mission to honor a generation of Maine’s fallen, by undertaking a symbolic action that literally shares the burden shouldered by our heroes and their families. We require that new TSP participants interact with The Summit Project in three ways – they must learn all they can about the fallen, they must complete a physical challenge carrying the stone in their pack, and they must compose a post-event reflection addressed to the surviving family members and share their tribute experience. That is what makes TSP a living memorial.
Our trekkers, like the fallen they honor, want to be part of something greater than themselves and discover a renewed sense of purpose in their personal lives. Similarly we have seen the healing power upon the surviving families, and how the stories of the fallen can continue to inspire future generations of leaders. TSP has impacted thousands of lives and in some cases, saved lives.
Since we started in May 2013, thousands of individuals from across the state and across the country have participated in and partnered with TSP. Just within Maine, we have partnered with law enforcement organizations, faith based groups, returning OIF and OEF veterans, WWII, Korea and Vietnam veterans, state and national parks, several private organizations, other nonprofits, motorcycle organizations, veteran’s groups, Togus Veteran’s hospital, youth groups, media organizations, local, state and federal elected officials and many more Maine based companies and organizations.
By working together to accomplish the mission of TSP, we have strengthened our communities by enabling our state to grow closer in the bonds of citizenship and service. We are always amazed what we can accomplish when we have a common goal and a clear vision and the determination to carry on the work of our fallen comrades towards creating a safer, sounder and more just America.
Different than any other multi-sport athletic event out there, we partake in endurance events that have real meaning. We believe that carrying these stones will help us understand what it was like to serve, what it means to serve and what it means to sacrifice for something greater. Our act of solidarity and the alignment of our efforts toward the summit of Katahdin and other mountains in Maine will reinforce the values that all Mainers hold dear – we look after one another, we remember one another, we take care of one another, we are faithful and we lift each other to higher places – literally and figuratively. In that sense, the spirit of our fallen Maine heroes can remain very much alive.
If you are up for the challenge of honoring the fallen while challenging the living, we want to hear from you. Your group can pick a weekend, plan a hike, carry our tribute stones (some of which are pictured below) and dedicate an event to our Maine heroes. We invite you to be part of this living memorial. We invite you to life a life worthy of their sacrifice.
We hope this project can help tell a story of a generation of Mainers who did not come back to Maine, but whose service and sacrifice will never be forgotten. This is a story of our generation of Maine servicemembers — a story that needs to be told. It’s an opportunity to say to our veterans you did your job. You served with honor. You made us proud. We are connected to you and continue to learn from your example. We are inspired by you. We do not forget you.
One day, long after we are gone, there will be a team of hikers who, because of this project, will learn about a fallen Maine hero they have never met, who fought a war they never knew — and in that moment, on the summit of a mountain in Maine, holding a stone that has been carried by generations of hikers before them, a connection will be made and the proud legacy of our Maine heroes will endure.
Mark and Lynn Silk of Orono, Maine, parents of fallen Maine hero SSG Brandon M. Silk, share their thoughts about The Summit Project.
Tom and Jane Zimmerman of Smyrna, Maine, parents of fallen Maine hero 1stLt James R. Zimmerman, share thoughts about hiking with these stones.
There are MANY more stories like the these on other pages of this site. Every stone tells a story and so many families have graciously shared those stories with this project.
Thank you for visiting this site to learn about The Summit Project. Please consider offering your support to keep this The Summit Project going — TSP is run by volunteers and all expenses are financed by donations. Thank you for ensuring that MHANF.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense or United States Marine Corps.