Saturday, September 06, 2008

POWs honored in South Portland (Sept. 5, 2008)

Posted by Sentry Editor at 9/5/2008 11:03 AM and is filed under State News,So Po News,Colleen Marshall

By Colleen Marshall

Managing Editor

Norman St. Pierre’s mother received the returned letters with a bold stamp across the front: Missing in Action.

The letters are now some of nearly 100 that his daughter, Scarborough resident Mary Cattadoris, keeps in a scrapbook dedicated to her father’s time in the service. The postcard-size letters were uncovered a few years ago in an old chest, starting with the Old Orchard Beach resident’s start in basic training in Colorado – telling his mother, father and siblings not to worry about him. Later, they are marked with the stamp, as the World War II veteran spent 18 months as a prisoner of war beginning in 1943, with a death march in Austria after his plane crashed.

His family believed him to be dead and accepted a distinguished flying cross from the military on his behalf.

Some 65 years later, Cattadoris will now be able to add a first-hand account of a time her father rarely speaks about as she stood with her family and watched him receive the Maine Silver Star Honorable Service Medal. Flanked by his two sons, St. Pierre shook Gov. John Baldacci’s hand and accepted the medal, which recognizes veterans who have been wounded or been held captive during conflicts overseas. Each man also received a lapel pin and an authenticity certificate.

Last Saturday’s ceremony honored 23 former POWs who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and took place on the grounds of the newly opened Maine Military Museum and Learning Center in South Portland. Members of Rolling Thunder Chapter 2 rolled in on their motorcycles and stood at attention, applauding loudly as each veteran’s name was read.

Following the national anthem and a presentation by the color guard, representatives from Sen. Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins spoke, and those in attendance bowed their heads in prayer. Baldacci then spoke briefly, thanking the soldiers for their service and “greatness” before handing out the medals.

“This is about you, your service and what you’ve had to endure,” Baldacci said at the start of the ceremony. “We want to thank you as a state. You know all too well the meaning of sacrifice and of service. This is one important way that the citizens of Maine can thank you for your commitment to this nation.”

Sitting in two rows of folding chairs, the veterans sat quietly, wearing khaki pants and button down shirts, many with baseball caps noting their military branch. While they sat dry-eyed and silent, family members surrounding them rallied for a space to catch a photograph of the event, and many soon turned around to hug the person next to them or wipe away a tear.

“I’m proud to be your brother,” one man said, while clutching his sibling’s shoulder.

“Go stand next to your grandpa,” a mother told her young son, as she captured the duo smiling.

“It’s wonderful. It’s really great. Any time we get to recognize these men,” said Bob St. Pierre of Saco, who along with his brother Tom helped walk their father to the podium to receive his medal. “Now we’re off to have a big shindig at mom’s house.”

Married 62 years and with nine children, Mary Agnes St. Pierre patted her husband’s arm gently and said the ceremony was simply “wonderful.”

“He never complained, not once,” she said. “That’s what made him such a good husband.”

The state honored World War II veterans: Lionel Barbin of Saco, Donald Bosworth of Kennebunk, Chester Knowles of Scarborough, Donald McDougall of Scarborough, Arthur Mills of South Portland and Norman St. Pierre of Old Orchard Beach, as well as Vietnam veteran Allan Carpenter of Springvale and Virginia. Those unable to attend the ceremony included World War II veteran Alvin Hersey of Kennebunk and Robert McLain of Gorham.