Fallen war hero being honored by Newport

Posted Oct. 13, 2011, at 8:09 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — Donald Skidgel has already been honored by his country. Now his hometown will be memorializing the late war hero.

Newport will rename its Main Street bridge, which carries routes 2, 7 and 100 over the Sebastiook River, the Donald Sidney Skidgel Memorial Bridge in a ceremony Saturday morning.

Skidgel was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the Vietnam War.

Skidgel was born in Caribou but grew up in Newport. He enlisted in the Army in Bangor.

“It’s been a long time, obviously,” said Newport Town Manager James Ricker. “He’s the only Newport soldier who ever received the Congressional Medal of Honor. His valor was above and beyond when you read what he actually did.”

According to his Medal of Honor citation, Sgt. Skidgel and his troops were acting as convoy security near Song Be in Vietnam on Sept. 14, 1969. Skidgel placed machine gun fire on enemy soldiers hidden in tall grass. After silencing them, he ran across 60 meters of bullet-swept ground to fire on more enemies. After running low on ammunition, he returned to his vehicle across the same terrain.

He was alerted that the command element was receiving heavy fire. Despite the road being saturated with enemy fire, he calmly mounted his vehicle. With a driver, he drew enemy fire onto himself, allowing the command troops to withdraw without casualties.

After an explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade, Skidgel was knocked down. He continued to place fire on the enemy, despite his pain. He was mortally wounded by small arms fire.

“Sgt. Skidgel’s gallantry at the cost of his life [was] in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect[s] great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army,” reads the citation.

He died just a month before his 21st birthday and is buried at Sawyer Cemetery in Plymouth.

Members of Skidgel’s family, including his three sisters, two brothers and two children, will be at the ceremony Saturday.

“I’m honored that they’re doing this, especially after all these years,” said Carol Skidgel, his younger sister. “It’s a great thing, [but] it’s hard on all the family.”

One family member will be absent.

Dustin Skidgel, Donald’s grandson, serves in the Army. He is driving with his son from Alaska, but won’t make it in time for the commemoration.

“They want to be here,” said Carol Skidgel.

Photos of Sgt. Skidgel as well as his medals are on display at the Newport Cultural Center.

Photos of the bridge through the years are also on display.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Maj. Gen. John Libby of the Maine National Guard will speak at the ceremony on the bridge, which begins at 10 a.m. State Rep. Kenneth Fredette will be the master of ceremonies.

A 22-by-30-inch bronze plaque will be unveiled. An invocation, presentation of colors and arms and the national anthem, sung by Kathleen Evans, are also scheduled.

The ceremony on the bridge will last about 30 minutes. Guests are invited to the Newport Cultural Center afterward.

Construction on the bridge began in May. It replaces a bridge built in 1931.

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