FALMOUTH – Motorists who travel Route 1 near the Falmouth Shopping Center would likely know Samuel Hackenberger.

He was the elderly man often seen riding a motorized wheelchair adored with an American flag and a tall bright orange flag bearing the name “Sam I Am.”

Mr. Hackenberger, 98, was a decorated World War II veteran who became an electrician for the Navy, and was currently serving as vice commander of American Legion Post 164 in Falmouth.

Since 2004, Mr. Hackenberger’s daughter has tried to fulfill his dream of receiving the Purple Heart that he earned when he was wounded during World War II.

Sadly, Mr. Hackenberger won’t see his dream come true. He died Sunday at the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House.

“It meant so much to him,” Nancy Vachon, of Portland, said of her father’s wish to be recognized with the Purple Heart. “He was very proud of the fact that he earned it and was regretful in his later years that he turned it down. At the time, he didn’t feel that he deserved it. He felt like there were so many people worse off than him. He felt pretty lucky to be alive.”

Mr. Hackenberger served in the Army from 1933 to 1936. Prior to his discharge, he enlisted in the Navy and served as a licensed electrician with the Seabees.

During World War II, he was wounded in hand-to-hand combat on Guam in the Marianas. One night while on cave duty, he encountered a Japanese soldier who hit him in the face with his rifle, knocking his teeth out. He spent weeks in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

He was eligible for a Purple Heart, but declined the honor. He later pursued the award, but the records of his injuries were destroyed in a fire, Vachon said. Sen. Susan Collins’ office is reviewing the case, and Vachon said she will continue her efforts to secure her father’s Purple Heart.

Mr. Hackenberger later served in the Naval Reserve from 1951 to 1955. He spent his career working as an electrician for the Navy.

He was married to Martha Johnson and raised two children. She died in 1952. The next year, he married Nancy Barton and they had three children. The Hackenbergers retired to Chebeague Island in 1975, and later moved to Falmouth.

He was remembered by his daughter Friday as a kind and generous man, who loved his family and lived life to the fullest.

In 1983, Mr. Hackenberger suffered a heart attack that propelled him to re-evaluate his life.

He got active in the University of Southern Maine’s Heartline program, where he attended weekly health and exercise classes. He remained active in the program until age 96.

A highlight of his life came in 2010, when he attended the 80th homecoming at Valley Forge Military Academy, Pa. The academy awarded him an honorary degree.

Another thrilling moment came last year when he attended the 70th reunion at Pearl Harbor. Vachon said the locals treated her father like a celebrity. The event was covered by CNN. Local viewers saw Mr. Hackenberger in the front row wearing his blue Falmouth American Legion Post 164 hat. “He loved every second of it,” his daughter said.

Mr. Hackenberger was a “diehard” Partriots and Red Sox fan.

He was active in American Legion Post 164 in Falmouth, where he was currently serving as vice commander.

Nearly every morning, he joined a group of men at Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and camaraderie.

Art Frederiksen, a past commander of the post, remembered him Friday as a gentleman, who never boasted about his contributions during his years of service. Frederiksen said the group has helped in the effort to get Mr. Hackenberger his Purple Heart.

“It never materialized. We always felt bad about that,” Frederiksen said. “He was an unsung hero. He did a lot of wonderful things. Sam was very much revered by all the old cronies that gather at Dunkin’ Donuts. When they heard he passed away, they were so sad. He was a shining example of a good gentleman.” 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]