"The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe.'”

— Peter DeVries, editor and novelist (1910-1993)


Common sense was challenged several weeks ago when a Midcoast woman now living in Thomaston, Jan Dearborn, was told by Camden town officials that the name of her deceased brother, Stanton Dearborn, would not be allowed on the veterans’ memorial wall on the Village Green in downtown Camden.

Stanton, after two tours in Vietnam, came home to Camden and, four months later, ended his life by suicide. His sister wants Stanton included on the Camden veterans' honor roll, but has been denied because he doesn’t fit the “qualifications.”

Here is yet another case of having rules that sometimes just don’t fit, so they must be changed or adapted; a one-time exception might be another way to look at it.

In the world of common sense, we have some simple principles. For instance, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. You decide if this is a duck or not.

In a Camden Herald article in March, Kim Lincoln wrote that, “to qualify, a veteran must have been a resident of the town of Camden at the time they joined the armed forces and must have been in the military or Merchant Marines during wartime. They did not have to see combat duty.”

At 17 years old, Stanton and his sister, Jan, were taken on a trip to New York to see some family; what they didn’t know was that their parents were splitting up and they would not be coming back to Camden as a family. Jan, the younger of the siblings, spent the next two years in New York, while her brother lasted just six weeks in New York before dropping out of school and heading back to Maine, where, Jan recalls, their father or their aunt signed for Stanton so he could join the military, where he would become a door gunner with the Army.

Jan picked her brother up at the airport eight years later, almost 50 years ago, in the summer of 1968; he was dressed in his army fatigues and the reception they got at the airport was less than hospitable. Being spit on and pelted with rotten fruit was his thanks for his service to his country; within a few days he was back in his hometown of Camden living with his grandmother.

Several months later, Stanton shot himself; his funeral was held at a local funeral home on Christmas Eve of 1968 and he was buried in a family plot with military honors.

So where is the rub? He was born in Camden, he died in Camden and was buried in Camden. Only for that month and a half before he returned to Maine to serve in the army was he from “away.”

His sister, Jan, has been asked to jump through hoops and has obtained copies of his honorable discharge and provided the town with his birth and death certificates, all in an effort to get her brother listed on the wall.

Yes, we must have rules, but sometimes there are circumstances that transcend the rules. In those cases, bend them, break them, make an exception, or just plain change them.

This is certainly a case of a situation where it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and the town selectmen just need to step up and do the right thing. They did the right thing when they originally told Jan they would save space on the wall for Stanton, but now are reneging on that promise because Stanton’s parents split up and for six weeks he lived in New York before joining the Army to serve his country to protect our freedom.

Stanton never got the thanks or respect he deserved when he was alive; can’t we give him back a little dignity and thank him by being respectful to a sister who just wants one thing: for their brother to be honored with a spot on the wall that she can visit, touch and perhaps find some solace at?

That does not seem like asking for too much.

After being told that because of the technicality of her brother's enlisting while not being an official resident of Camden, that he is not eligible to be listed on the Camden wall, she was referred to another alternative in Hope where, as she puts it, Stanton had no connection at all.

This is not just about a name on a wall; it is about closure and peace. As the last Dearborn family member still alive, Jan adds, “I don’t even know if my brother would want to be on that damned wall, but I have my entire family on it and I want him on it too.”

In the end, to those who can fix this, just do the right thing and fix it; put Stanton Dearborn’s name on the damn wall.

Stanton Dearborn put his life on the line for us for eight years; isn’t it the least we could do for him and his sister to put him on the wall with the rest of his family members who served in the military?

Common sense says “yes.”

Reade Brower can be reached at: reade@freepressonline.com