SOUTH PORTLAND – Even before the ceremony to honor fallen Cumberland County troops and veterans got under way Saturday, Bruce LeBeau said he was choking back tears at the memory of his father, Joseph LeBeau.

His father lost a leg while fighting in France during World War II, but he never let his wound get him down, his son said. He went on to work at the former S.D. Warren Paper Mill in Westbrook and volunteer as a firefighter. Like many of his generation, he didn’t dwell on his war experiences.

“He didn’t talk about it much,” Bruce LeBeau said.

LeBeau and his wife, Maureen, and daughter, Krista, were honored along with dozens of other veterans and family members gathered at the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center, where Maj. Gen. Bill Libby of the Maine National Guard presented state service medals.

Maine started its medal program to recognize military service in 2006. The program is separate from the one overseen by the U.S. military.

The state honors service members for four levels of service, including an honorable certificate of service, a bronze star for the noncombat death of a service member in the line of duty, a silver star for service members who have been awarded a Purple Heart or were a prisoner of war, and a gold star for service members killed in combat.

The Maine Military Museum event was the largest award ceremony of state gold star medals ever, said Lee Humiston, director and curator of the museum. Gold stars were presented to the widows and children of 14 men killed in the Vietnam War and four men killed in World War II.

About 100 riders from the motorcycle groups Combat Veterans, Patriot Guard and Rolling Thunder were on hand for the event.

The ceremony also honored two men missing in action, Lt. Col. Paul Getchell of Portland and Staff Sgt. Edward Darcy of Windham, who died in separate air crashes during the Vietnam War. Their remains were not discovered until years later.

“It’s nice that veterans are getting recognition from the state,” said Gregory Getchell, Paul Getchell’s son.

Getchell said the gold star would become part of the collection of honors assembled by his late mother, Teresa, who kept a 40-year vigil seeking answers about her husband’s disappearance.

Ruth Anne Diphillipo of Portland received a gold star to commemorate the death of her husband, Rocco, who was killed in Vietnam in 1971. Diphillipo said that for years she had little information about his death, other than an official letter informing her he had died during daylight patrol and was shot in the upper body by a light handgun. Then two years ago, a soldier who fought alongside her husband showed up at her door while vacationing in Maine and told a more dramatic story.

“To him my husband was a hero. They had been trapped in combat behind some rocks for three days,” Diphillipo said.

She said the friend told her that her husband came out from behind the rocks as a diversionary tactic and was shot in the jugular vein, said Diphillipo, accompanied by her daughter Melissa Rodney, who was just a baby when her father died.

Paul Auclair of Westbrook was there to receive a medal to honor his father, Joseph Auclair, who died aboard the SS Leopoldville during World War II. The ship was carrying troops across the English Channel when it was torpedoed and sank.

Auclair said it was only in recent years that he learned about the circumstances of his father’s death, which led to a trip to a memorial in France, where his father’s name was listed along with the names of others whose bodies were never recovered. Now Auclair has something closer to home to remind him of his father’s sacrifice.

“This is nice for the families,” he said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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