HERMON, Maine — John Hodgins opened the small, blue, velvet box and looked inside at the Maine Silver Star medal that on Tuesday was given to his father, a World War II veteran who died 40 years ago.
After touching it gently with his fingers, the Brewer man closed the box and held it and a certificate accompanying the medal tightly in his hand as he watched the rest of the Silver Star Honorable Service Medal presentation, which took place at Hermon High School.
Staff Sgt. George Hodgins was a waist gunner aboard the Cash & Carrie, a bomber serving in the European theater during World War II with the 390th Bombardment Group.
“On his 13th mission, on October 10th, 1943, his plane got shot down,” his son said. “Five men bailed out and he was captured. He spent the rest of the war in prison camps.”
Hodgins was awarded the Maine Silver Star for being a Purple Heart medal recipient and for surviving two years as a prisoner of war. The special state-issued medals differ from the federal Silver Star, established by Congress in 1918 and awarded for gallantry in combat.
Hodgins was one of eight POWs and 14 Purple Heart recipients honored. Not all of them could attend the ceremony. The list included veterans from the World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and one who was wounded in the Dominican Republic.
Peter W. Ogden, director of Maine Veterans Services, said it’s important to recognize the service and sacrifices of Maine’s veterans and their families.
“These proud Americans served their country with great distinction,” Gov. John Baldacci said to the veterans and their family members during the ceremony. “Today it’s our pleasure to honor you.”
The Maine Legislature created the Maine Gold, Silver and Bronze Star medals in 2006, and since then more than 800 veterans have been honored. Maine Gold Stars are given to those who were killed in combat, and Maine Bronze Stars are given to those who were killed outside combat zones.
When Purple Heart recipient and Levant resident Dwight McIntosh approached the front of the gathering, he saluted Ogden and the two active military personnel and other Purple Heart recipients standing beside him.
After the ceremony, he said he wanted to honor those who continue to serve.
“I did my time and they’re doing theirs now,” McIntosh said. “They’re doing it … [and] they deserve the respect.”
Lt. Col. Eric Johns, of the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing, and Maj. Sean Harmon, of the Maine Army National Guard, helped to present the medals with Ogden and Baldacci.
McIntosh, who was injured in Vietnam in February 1969, was discharged from the U.S. Navy as a gunners mate second class.
After doing extensive research into his father’s service and looking through memorabilia from WWII, including postcards and a Western Union telegraph informing George Hodgins’ mother that her son was a POW, John Hodgins applied for the Maine Silver Star in his father’s name.
As the ceremony ended, the Brewer man said he was honored to stand up and receive the award for his dad. His sister’s pride openly poured out of her eyes.
“He was hit with shrapnel in the air, a lot of shrapnel,” said Hodgins’ daughter Mary Ellen Palmiere, who drove up from Mansfield, Mass., for the ceremony. His plane went down over Munster, Germany, and Hodgins was moved from one prison camp to another for two years until his release in August 1945. He died in 1969 in Maine at age 54.
Two other daughters, Jackie Caiola, of Portland, and Elaine O’Connell, of Hampden, and a grandson, Timothy Hodgins, of Orrington, also attended the ceremony along with their spouses.
The following is a list of those honored Tuesday:
State of Maine Silver Star Honorable Service Medal for prisoners of war: Staff Sgt. Walter P. DeWitt, Army, Bradford; Staff Sgt. George T. Hodgins, Army AC, Brewer; Staff Sgt. James R. Merritt, Army, Orono; Pfc. Carleton F. Willey, Army, Hampden; Pvt. Crawford W. Carter, Army, Etna; Pvt. Roland E. French, Army, Ban-gor; Pvt. John B. Tivnan, Army, Newburgh; and Sgt. William See Jr., Army AC, Newport.
State of Maine Silver Star Honorable Service Medal for the Purple Heart: Pvt. Andrew S. Clark, Army, Plymouth; Sgt. Kendrick B. Sawyer Jr., USMC, Bangor; Cpl. Richard E. Carlson, Navy, Winterport; Sgt. Llewellyn C. Cyr, Army, Carmel; SP4 Richard W. Grant, Army, Glenburn; GMG2 Dwight E. McIntosh, Navy, Levant; SP5 Roger G. Michaud, Army, Hermon; Sgt. Timothy D. Hendsbee, Army, Glenburn; Spc. Darren A. Ripley, Army, Bangor; Pfc. Richard F. Proulx, Army, Hampden; SP4 Frank A. Crossman, Army, Stetson; Sgt. Charles B. Palmer, USMC, Hampden; SP4 Roger A. Stanley, Army, LaGrange; and Pfc. Leonard W. Stratton, USMC, Corinna.