NEWPORT, Maine — A Vietnam War hero now has a permanent home in Newport.
The new bridge crossing the Sebasticook River was renamed the Donald Sidney Skidgel Memorial Bridge on Saturday in honor of the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
Sgt. Skidgel was killed in battle near Song Be on Sept. 14, 1969, after drawing enemy fire upon himself in order to save lives of his fellow soldiers. He was just a month away from his 21st birthday. He is buried in Plymouth.
Sen. Susan Collins, Rep. Mike Michaud, State Rep. Kenneth Fredette and Maine National Guard Major Gen. John Libby spoke during the ceremony, which included much of Skidgel’s family. About 250 people gathered on the bridge.
Skidgel’s three children stood with the speakers to unveil the plaque which bears their father’s image.
“I’m very honored. I appreciate everything,” said Terry Skidgel of Plymouth, Sgt. Skidgel’s son.
“It’s hard on all of us when we read how [our father died],” said Tammy Russell of St. Albans, Skidgel’s daughter. “After 40 years, we have a hard time with it because we didn’t really know dad.”
Mindy Martin of Bangor, Sgt. Skidgel’s other daughter, also attended.
Gen. Libby brought many to tears after telling how hard it was to deal with memories of fallen comrades from Vietnam.
“The wall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in November of 1982,” said Libby. “It took me several years before I found the courage to visit the wall. In 1984 [I visited the wall] under the cover of darkness. I knew exactly why I did it at that time of day because I was afraid of what the memories that might rush back from visiting it for the first time.
“For those of us who did return, on days like this, at ceremonies like this, there are often feelings of guilt in having returned when others didn’t,” said Libby. “Frankly, I was deeply moved on that night in 1984, as I am today.”
Michaud, Collins and Gail Kelly of Brewer, who read a statement from Sen. Olympia Snowe, spoke of Skidgel’s bravery.
“The story of his actions is inspiring, but it’s difficult to find the words to say how profoundly appreciative we all are as a country for what he did,” said Michaud. “His actions are the very definition of bravery.”
Collins commented on how rare it is for a soldier to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award a military member can receive.
“Since the first presentation of the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, nearly 40 million men and women have served in our military,” said Collins. “Fewer than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded. It is the most rare distinction because it recognizes the highest standard.”
Newport Town Manager Jim Ricker said it wasn’t difficult to get the bridge named in Skidgel’s honor.
After the Town Selectmen decided to have the new bridge named for Skidgel, Ricker asked State Rep. Fredette to sponsor a bill for the name change. Ricker said it passed through Congress and was signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage.
The six months of effort were worth it for Ricker.
“It went well, very well,” said Ricker. “It was a great event honoring a great American hero.”
The total cost of the bridge was $1.7 million and replaces an 81-year-old predecessor, according to Snowe’s speech spoken by Kelly.
“May this passageway … serve as a constant reminder of the storied exploits of its namesake and of the inexpressible debt of gratitude we owe all soldiers and their families — a debt which we can never repay, but must never forget,” said Snowe in the prepared speech.