THOMASTON, Maine — Because of paperwork and other military hurdles, it sometimes can take a while for veterans to get the awards and medals they deserve, according to officials.
Ben Harding waited 65 years.
On Thursday, the 93-year-old Navy Reserves veteran was awarded several World War II medals for his service from 1943 to 1946. Harding served at Normandy at Omaha Beach, as well as in the Mediterranean and the Pacific.
More than anything else from the war, Harding remembers arriving at Normandy on June 7, 1944, the day after D-Day.
“For as far as you could see from left to right it was nothing but ships. As far as you could see. And the sky was black with aircraft,” Harding said Thursday. The beach itself, Harding said, was shining red as projectiles fired from the ships exploded. He also has vivid memories of bodies flying through the air from exploding ships and corpses floating in the water.
That sort of experience changes people. Harding saw his “happy-go-lucky” friend from Texas turn into a depressed young man quickly, he said. But Harding said the war never changed how he lived his life.
After tours through the Mediterranean and the Pacific, Harding’s ship was called back to the United States in 1945 and he worked for the War Department in Washington, D.C., before returning to his home in Thomaston.
Fast forward to 2010 when Harding and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, were chatting at a community event. It came up that Harding served in the war but never got his medals.
It took a few months, but Pingree’s team dug through records and verified that Harding was correct. They ordered his medals and presented them Thursday in Thomaston’s American Legion Hall.
Pingree, who is on the the Armed Services Committee, said that a lot of the work she does is on big, abstract budgets, but pinning a WWII medal to Harding’s jacket on Thursday was something a bit more concrete and special.
Harding was awarded the WWII Victory medal, American Campaign medal, Pacific Campaign medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with a bronze star, a combat action ribbon and an honorable service lapel pin.
About 15 of Harding’s friends attended the ceremony Thursday, including other veterans and friends from his church, where Harding is an active member. He has sat in the same seat for just about 90 years, according to his friends. He also helps other seniors get around and is active in the American Legion.
Kay Sylvester, 75, has known Harding her whole life.
“Ben is just one of those constants in town. He still has a twinkle in his eye,” Sylvester said.