SOUTHPORT — Dennis Andrews had to wait 45 years to replace the missing Bronze Star he earned while serving in Vietnam, but when he finally received it on Saturday, hundreds were looking on and applauding at the Southport Town Hall.

“It was overwhelming,” said Andrews, 67, of Boothbay Center, his eyes misting over.

Andrews attended the Welcome Home Veterans event hosted by local author Sarah Sherman McGrail to honor veterans from the Vietnam and Korean wars. The walls of the hall were lined with old war photos and mementos from those times.

Andrews said his Bronze Star medal was for bravery, but he doesn’t know what specifically it was for. He said he was never told. He worked in helicopter repair in the Army, serving at the base at Pho Bai.

“I just played the game like everyone else,” Andrews said.

Dennis Andrews displays his Bronze Star after receiving it at a ceremony attended by hundreds Saturday.

Dennis Andrews displays his Bronze Star after receiving it at a ceremony attended by hundreds Saturday.

But Andrews would often volunteer beyond his job duties, rescuing people who were at risk of being captured or worse, said McGrail.

The Bronze Star was supposed to be shipped to his parents in Boothbay Harbor in 1971 after he was discharged, but when his mom opened the box, it was empty. Somehow it got lost en route. Perhaps someone stole the medal, Andrews said.

He said he tried in the 1970s to obtain a new Bronze Star, but his request got stalled in the military bureaucracy.

Enter McGrail, who has spent the last eight years collecting veterans’ stories for two self-published books – “Looking Back Volume I” and “Looking Back Volume II” – that were recently released. McGrail worked with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to replace the Bronze Star.

McGrail and Collins’ office are also attempting to recover lost medals for two other Vietnam veterans from Boothbay Harbor.

For Andrews and many Vietnam-era veterans, coming home from the war was not a pleasant experience. The controversy surrounding the war led to many negative comments directed toward returning soldiers, Andrews said.

When he came home to Maine in 1971 – discharged because President Nixon was de-escalating the war – Andrews changed into civilian clothes so that no one would know he was a soldier returning from Vietnam.

McGrail said that was the idea behind the Welcome Home party to give Korean War – veterans often characterize that war as one that was forgotten by the American people – and Vietnam War veterans their well-deserved due.

Marie Andrews hugs her husband, Dennis Andrews of Boothbay Center after he received a Bronze Star Medal and a flag that had flown over the White House.

Marie Andrews hugs her husband, Dennis Andrews of Boothbay Center after he received a Bronze Star Medal and a flag that had flown over the White House. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“Even if people disagreed with the war, the people who fought in it were our family and neighbors. I wanted to right a wrong,” McGrail said. “It was 40 years in the making, but better late than never.”

Andrews retired this year from a long career in public works and construction. His wife, Marie, said her husband and everyone who served in the Vietnam War deserved better.

“They were never treated right,” Marie Andrews said.

Dennis Andrews said he feels most sorry for the soldiers who died in the war.

“I just feel bad for the guys who never got a chance to have a day like today,” he said.