BANGOR, Maine — A Hermon man whose military career spanned three wars and involved disarming enemy bombs marked a major milestone on Saturday during a gathering in his honor at Spectacular Event Center.
On hand were more than 100 family members and friends from across the United States, Canada and Germany, as well as a U.S. congressman.
“I just never expected all this. I knew there was something going on, but the extent of it I never imagined,” said Henry Stupakewicz, who turns 90 Wednesday.
Stupakewicz’s 26-year career with the U.S. Army spanned World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War and took him to several states as well as Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima, Korea and Thailand, where he worked for the United Nations removing Chinese guerrillas from the Burmese jungles, he said.
“He’s a patriot if there ever was one,” said Norma McGinley, Stupakewicz’s companion of many years.
Stupakewicz said that when he began explosive ordnance disposal work during World War II, “we had very few tools, very crude ones.”
The list included stethoscopes, crowbars, screwdrivers, wrenches, shovels and little boilers used to heat water and make steam.
Despite his job choice, he emerged from his military career with all 10 fingers.
“The trouble with close calls is that you never know you’ve had one, so I may have had 1,000 of them,” he said.
His reaction to the blockbuster movie “The Hurt Locker,” which tells the story of modern-day military bomb squad members was mixed.
“The basic ways that they portrayed the [removal] of bombs were proper, but the hero, he would not have survived in my section,” he said.
After retiring as a lieutenant colonel, Stupakewicz embarked on a second career as a shop and machine design teacher and then took up pottery.
In honor of Stupakewicz’s birthday and his military achievements, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud stopped by to present him with a case containing replacements for more than a dozen medals that Stupakewicz lost during one of his frequent moves.
The medals were tracked down by Morgan Urquhart, a staffer in the congressman’s Bangor office. Urquhart managed to obtain all but one of the awards in time for Saturday’s bash. The remaining medal is on order, Michaud said.
“I really appreciate your service to this great nation of ours,” Michaud said Saturday.
“We are what we are today because of soldiers like yourself, who made this country what it is,” Michaud said. “It’s just amazing the number of medals that you received.”
The list of medals includes the Bronze Star, American Campaign Medal, Master Ordnance Disposal Badge, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal and Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation.
The congressman also brought Stupakewicz a U.S. flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol in his honor on May 15, Armed Forces Day.
Though his Army days are behind him, Stupakewicz said he remains active in the National Explosive Ordinance Disposal Association, attending the group’s annual conventions when he can.
He also teaches pottery at the Hammond Street Senior Center, is a gourmet cook and volunteers with the Cole Land Transportation Museum’s Ambassadors of Freedom program, which allows students to interview Maine veterans about their service experiences.