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Six Courageous Heroes From New England

Not all courageous heroes receive their due on Veterans or any other day. So many sacrifices have gone unheralded, so many men and women who risked their lives for their country were all but forgotten.

For all of New England’s courageous heroes and veterans, we mention these six on Veterans Day. One comes from each state. If you know of another courageous hero who deserves accolades, please share it in the comments section.

Henry Mucci, Bridgeport, Conn.

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Henry Mucci, one of many courageous heroes who rescued POWs.

One of the most courageous heroes of World War II, Lt. Col. Henry Mucci led a daring rescue mission in the South Pacific.

Stationed in New Guinea during World War II, he created a new Army Ranger unit, the 6th Ranger Battalion.

In October 1944, the Japanese held more than 500 mostly American survivors of the Bataan Death March in the Cabanatuan POW camp in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the 6th Army was marching toward Manila to liberate it from the Japanese. The American prisoners were in imminent danger of being massacred by the Japanese before their countrymen could save them.

Mucci received orders to save them.

On Jan. 28, 1945, Mucci led a march 30 miles through Japanese territory and rendezvoused with Filipino guerillas near the POW camp. A total of 378 rangers and guerillas faced 3,000 Japanese. Some of the guerillas didn’t even have weapons.

At dusk on January 30, the guerrillas set up ambushes along the highway. Mucci led the Rangers on a half-mile crawl across an open field to a ditch outside the POW camp. An Army Air Force fighter buzzed the Japanese to distract them.

The surprise attack lasted but half an hour. None of the Japanese troops or tanks got past the guerrillas along the highway. Many didn't survive the strafing by the 547th Night Fighter Squadron. The Rangers liberated all but one of the 513 prisoners.

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Cabanatuan POWs celebrate their liberation.

More than 500 Japanese troops were killed or wounded. Only two Rangers died and 21 Filipino guerillas suffered wounds.

Some prisoners, weakened from disease and starvation, couldn’t walk, so the Rangers carried them, sometimes two at a time.

More...

Henry Mucci came home to Bridgeport, welcomed as one of the war's most courageous heroes. He received the Distinguished Service Cross.

A section of Route 25 between Bridgeport and Newtown was named the Col. Henry A. Mucci Highway. Additionally, a film, The Great Raid, was released in 2005.

To see a videos and photos of the liberation of Cabanatuan, click herehere and here.

Donald Skidgel, Bangor, Maine

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Sgt. Donald Skidgel

Sgt. Donald Skidgel of Bangor, Maine, gave his life at the age of 20 to save others on a battleground in Vietnam.

He joined the Army in 1968 and soon rose to sergeant. On Sept. 14, 1969, his unit guarded a convoy near Song Be. The enemy began firing from hiding places in tall grass and bunkers.

Skidgel maneuvered off the road and started shooting, silencing one enemy position. Then he ran across 60 meters of bullet-raked ground and fired at other enemy positions.

Suddenly Skidgel saw the convoy’s command group coming under intense attack. He tried to draw the enemy’s attention by manning a machine gun while his driver steered through the hostile fire.

An exploding grenade knocked him onto the rear fender, but he staggered to his feet and continued firing. Finally, small arms fire killed him.

He saved the convoy command and inspired his fellow soldiers to defeat the enemy.

Donald Skidgel received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

On Oct. 15, 2011, the bridge on Route 2 over the Sebasticook River in Newport Maine was dedicated as ‘The Donald Sidney Skidgel Memorial Bridge.’

John Mihalowski, Worcester, Mass.

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John Mihalowski

When Worcester, Mass., native John Mihalowski enlisted in the Navy in 1927, he couldn’t know he would play a key role in the greatest submarine rescue in history.

Mihalowski trained as a Navy diver and rose to chief torpedoman. As the U.S. entry into World War II loomed, he joined the crew of the U.S.S. Falcon.

On May 23, 1939, the Falcon raced from New London, Conn., to rescue the U.S.S. Squalus. The submarine sank during a test dive from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

Some of the men survived, but they probably wouldn’t last long because they had so little air. Besides, no one had ever survived a submarine sinking.

Once the Falcon reached the Squalus, Mihalowski and several other divers managed to make four dangerous, difficult trips to the sub in an experimental diving ball. At great risk, they carried all 33 survivors to the surface.

John Mihalowski received the Medal of Honor ‘for extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession.’ Read more of the dramatic story of the greatest submarine rescue ever here.

The Kittery Historical and Naval Museum in Kittery has an exhibit dedicated to the Squalus rescue.

Alexander Scammell, Durham, N.H.

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Alexander Scammell

George Washington thought Alexander Scammell one of the funniest men in the Continental Army. Washington enjoyed the company of the tall, handsome and charming soldier.

Scammell was born in Mendon (now Milford), Mass., but spent most of his adult career in New Hampshire after graduating from Harvard. He studied law in Durham, N.H., with John Sullivan, who became a general and a governor.

Alexander Scammell saw action even before the Revolution began. He seized the British flag during a raid on Fort William and Mary in New Castle, N.H., in December 1774.

He joined the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment during the Siege of Boston and eventually joined Washington’s Army. Scammell remained with Washington as the British chased the shrinking American army through New Jersey. On Christmas night 1776, Alexander Scammell crossed the Delaware in Washington’s boat before the morale-boosting victory of the Battle of Trenton.

A week later, he distinguished himself at the Battle of Princeton.

Alexander Scammell saw the American forces being badly beaten and, in a daring move, rode to the fore to lead a charge against the enemy. Washington rode up moments later. They rallied the troops, turning a defeat into victory and putting the British on the defensive.

Scammell didn’t survive the war. He died from his wounds during a skirmish before the Battle of  Yorktown.

Alexander Scammell’s portrait hangs at the New Hampshire Statehouse, along with dozens of other portraits of military heroes. They belong to the Collections of the New Hampshire Statehouse & State Library. Scammell’s likeness may be viewed in the Visitor’s Center, Rooms 118 and 119. Fort Scammell in Casco Bay, Maine, and the Alexander Scammell Bridge over the Bellamy River near Durham were named after him.

Esek Hopkins, Scituate, R.I.

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Esek Hopkins

Esek Hopkins, born in 1718 in Scituate, R.I., had sailed to nearly every part of the globe by the time the American Revolution broke out.

On Dec. 22, 1775, the Continental Congress appointed him to head America’s infant navy. He ignored his orders to head to the Chesapeake Bay, and took eight merchant ships outfitted for war to the Caribbean.

He defied orders because he risked annihilation of his small fleet in the Chesapeake. Hopkins decided instead to divert the British Navy from the American coast and capture a prize.

On March 3, 1776 Esek Hopkins launched the Battle of Nassau in the first U.S. amphibious landing. Sailors and marines captured munitions and two ships, while severely injuring another. Hopkins received praise by some, condemnation by others for the bold stroke.

Esek Hopkins got no medals during the war. He had a hot temper and criticized Congress, which did not view him as one of the war's courageous heroes. Finally, Congress relieved him of his command in July 1778.

Esek Hopkins' home in Providence is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Willie Johnston, Derby, Vt.

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Willie Johnston

Willie Johnston of Salem (now Derby), Vt., received the Medal of Honor as the youngest and one of the most courageous heroes of the Civil War.

When his father enlisted in the Union Army in December 1861, 11-year-old Willie begged to join him as a drummer boy. He mustered into the 3d Vermont Infantry Regiment on May 1, 1862, and soon saw action.

During the Seven Days Battles near Richmond, Va., the Confederate Army drove the Union Army down the Virginia peninsula. Many men threw away their guns to lighten their load while retreating.  Willie hung on to his drum and brought it safely to Harrison’s Landing.

As the only drummer boy left with a drum, he was given the honor of drumming for the division parade. President Abraham Lincoln heard the story and recommended the boy receive a medal. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton presented the Medal of Honor on Feb. 15, 1864, when Willie was 13 years old – for something he did when he was 11.

Willie Johnston mustered out of the army on Dec. 30, 1864, the second-ever recipient of the Medal of Honor.

You can see Willie Johnston's drumsticks and a photograph of him at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury. A statue of him stands in Santa Clarita, Calif., and a book, Mr. Lincoln’s Drummer, came out in 1995.

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