SEARSMONT — Clyde Wellman, a Belmont native and local veteran who served in the Navy for 20 years, built a 40-foot-long replica of the aircraft carrier USS Independence in his spare time, according to his widow, Verlesta.

“He was a farmer and only worked on the ship in the wintertime,” she said. “He had said when he got through showing it, he wanted to donate it to the Veterans of Foreign Wars — it was a wish of his.”

After his death in June, Verlesta presented Wellman’s vessel to Randall Collins VFW Post 3108 in Belfast. Post Operations Manager Jim Roberts has been caring for it ever since.

The vessel has been in numerous parades, Verlesta recalled. “It was a labor of love,” she said. “He would be very pleased.”

Excited students at Ames Elementary School in Searsmont view a model of the USS Independence Oct. 12. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Students at Ames Elementary School got a close-up view of Wellman’s handiwork Oct. 12 when Roberts brought the vessel, along with one member from each branch of the military, to the school for a kickoff event for Hygiene for Heroes. The program collects items like soap, shampoo and toothpaste for veterans in need at Togus VA Medical Center and military nursing homes.

Ames Elementary School fourth grade teacher Sarah Nelson, gesturing, foreground, introduces special guests at the launch of the Hygiene for Heroes drive. From left are Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton, Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Onnalee Blackledge and VFW Operations Manager Jim Roberts. Not pictured are Rob Adamski of the Army Reserves and First Sgt. Damiene Roberts of the Air Force. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

The items are stored in a “Comfort Closet,” Roberts said, along with combs, toenail clippers, baby powder, reading glasses, disposable razors, instant coffee, tea, white socks and gift cards to Walmart and Walgreens. The school collects the items and “We load up our trucks and bring them there,” he said.

Ames Elementary students ask questions about the model aircraft carrier visiting their school Oct. 12. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Roberts said the day’s message was all about community service and highlighting members who served not only their country, but also their community, and are still serving today. Roberts himself served in the Navy and said now manages all operations at the VFW.

Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton said what is important to him is service. He started in the Marines out of high school and later served in the National Guard. He has served in his local fire department and is currently on the Select Board in Thorndike. He added that his wife serves on the Parks and Recreation Committee in the town. He encouraged students to consider ways they can support their community.

Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton hands out flags to Ames Elementary students Oct. 12. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Rob Adamski is in the Army Reserve, where he is a part-time soldier and a full-time civilian, he said. He is an Army veteran who just returned from volunteering at the Boston Marathon as a medic. In his current job he helps organize civilians such as doctors, bankers, judges and teachers, to aid the Army in its work.

He has been a paramedic for 30 years and also a wildlife medic. “I get to work with eagles and turtles,” he said. “There are tons of different easy ways to give back. Maine needs people like you to do the really cool stuff.” 

All of the intricate details, including the wooden planes, were made by Clyde Wellman, a local veteran who served in the Navy for 20 years. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Originally from Michigan, Onnalee Blackledge is a petty officer second class in the Coast Guard, where she has helped communities rebuild after hurricanes and other disasters. Anytime the government needed help with border control or building a home with Habitat for Humanity for a family in need, serving at food banks or blood drives, Breckenridge was there.

The day took on a special meaning for Roberts, whose son, on leave from the Air Force for a few days, was able to take part in the school event.  First Sgt. Damiene Roberts said he has previously served as a network infrastructure section chief.

Ames Elementary students admire the model of the USS Independence Oct. 12. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

“I’m here until tomorrow,” he said, adding, “it has been four years since I’ve been home.” Damiene said every time he returns, he lends a hand where he can. “Last time I think we built the baseball field at Belfast City Park.”

In his current role he has helped with hurricane evacuations and with Thanksgiving meals for those in need, he said.

Fourth grade teacher Sarah Nelson said Ames is all about “Paw Pride,”  which includes the qualities of respect, responsibility, cooperation, positive outlook and showing grit. Paw Pride, she said, “is also all about helping our communities.”

Details of the deck of the USS Independence aircraft carrier made by Clyde Wellman Oct. 12. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Students were able to view the intricate workmanship built into the model ship while filing past where it was displayed on a trailer.

Student questions brought out some interesting facts — the ship is made out of anything Clyde could find, including wallpaper for the sides, he built everything by hand, including all the small airplanes; it took three to four years to complete and the ship does not float.

This is the 40-foot-long replica of the aircraft USS Independence built by Navy veteran Clyde Wellman. His widow, Verlesta, donated the vessel to the VFW after Clyde’s death in June. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

The school event presented an opportunity for kids to realize that everyone can make a difference, even at their age. Donations for the Hygiene for Heroes campaign can be dropped off at the front entrance of Ames Elementary School by Nov. 1 and will be presented for Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

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