Honoring Bowdoin Veterans

On a Saturday morning in June 1994, Bowdoin dedicated its most recent war memorial. Honoring and remembering those associated with the College who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, the Bowdoin Memorial followed the construction of Memorial Hall after the Civil War and the Memorial Flagpole dedicated to those who served in World War I. The driving force behind the newest memorial—which stands directly opposite Gibson Hall—was Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Everett P. Pope ’41, who chaired the Bowdoin Memorial Committee. The memorial was gratefully accepted on behalf of the College by President Robert Edwards. Today, on Veteran’s Day, as we honor those who served and continue to serve in America’s armed forces, the BDS publishes his remarks.

Good morning. On behalf of the College, I gratefully accept the gift of this magnificent memorial and extend our thanks to Ev Pope, to the others on his committee, to the donors who have worked so hard to make this moment possible, and to the architects who have given us a design with great dignity.

This monument lies in direct line with and draws solemn precedent from two earlier memorials: the flag pole adjacent to us honoring those who served in the First World War, and at the other end of our quad, the granite walls and interior bronze plaques of Memorial Hall, built with much effort to remember those who served the cause of freedom in the Civil War.

There are 200 names on these three memorials; young men taken from us too soon. Each walked here once. Studied here. Played here. They left this place to do their part in service to our country and to the world. Some after graduating. Some before their time here was complete. Many left hoping one day to return, but also knowing that it was important that they go. This morning, many of you who served with them are here to help us honor them.

There is a life story for each of the 111 names carved in the granite blocks before us this morning. Too many stories to recall in the short time we have planned here.

They are stories that ended in far-off but somehow familiar places like Pearl Harbor, Okinawa, Danang, and Normandy. In the U.S., Korea, France, the Philippines, Germany, New Guinea, Hungary, and Tunisia. Some died at sea, some in the air. Some were prisoners of war, others were never found.

Some knew conflict over and over again like Ralph Gordon Chadbourne of the Class of 1946 who served with the Marine Corps in World War II, in Korea, and in Vietnam. Others were young men flush with enthusiasm and a profound sense of duty like Robert Dean Heflin of the Class of 1943 who was sent to Europe in August 1944 on his 21st birthday knowing that his father had been taken prisoner two and a half years earlier in the Philippines. From Europe he would write his young wife:

“Do not expect me home before it is over over here and even then, don’t expect me to stay long because my big job is in the Pacific.”

Dean Hefflin never saw his 22nd birthday. He was killed in action in Luxembourg, in December 1944. His father, released from a Japanese prison camp just two months later, wrote to President Casey Sills, describing “the fire in his bones” at learning of his son’s death.

“The freedom that is being purchased at so overwhelming a cost is not only mine, but yours as well as those who read this,” he wrote. “I hope it will put still greater purpose and effectiveness in our lives to remember that the life we enjoy and the freedom we have has been bought for us with a price. What a price!”

This is a busy corridor of this campus and we have now before us a profound reason to pause here; to look at these names and to think of these lives with a mixture of awe, sadness, and with a deep sense of that price that each of these men and each of their families have paid.

The price was high for Michael George Hershall McPharlin of the Class of 1935. Mickey, as he was called, was the first Bowdoin student to find his way into World War II. When the war broke out in Europe, Mickey tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps but was rejected because he was a quarter-inch too short. Undaunted, he traveled to Canada where he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Eleven months later he was overseas. For over two years he served in England as a member of the American Eagle Squadron of the Royal Air Force, gaining a reputation as an ace fighter pilot. In 1942, during a commando raid on Dieppe, he was shot down over the English Channel and was rescued by a PT boat. When the Eagle squadron disbanded, Mickey returned to the United States and joined the Army Air Force, achieving the rank of Major. He was married in December 1942 and returned to Europe, once again distinguishing himself in battle. On June 6, 1944,—50 years ago Monday—Mickey was reported missing, having failed to return from a strafing mission over Evereaux, France, behind the invasion beaches of Normandy.

Mickey McPharlin’s service to his country—really to three countries—was the subject of a 1990 biography. Most of the other stories represented here are not likely to receive as much attention, but they are stories that will be remembered and retold on this campus. There will be students and others here for generations to come who will linger at this place and wonder about these men. Who were they, where did they fight, who did they leave behind?

Memorials such as this are meant to prompt such questions—to have those who pass ponder these lives, to give thanks, and to feel the terrible price of war. It is a price that the families represented here this morning continue to pay. This college shares your loss, for it is our loss too. This flagpole next to us was built to honor Bowdoin dead in the World War. No one knew then that there would be another. Today, we consecrate a monument to those who served in three later conflicts. Let us hope that this memorial is the last that we will have to build on this campus—that these names, cast in granite for all time, will be the last that we will have to mourn.

Thank you for being here.

2 comments to Honoring Bowdoin Veterans

  • Bob Shea

    Bowdoin’s commitment to “the common good” is inspiring. The men memorialized on these monuments were truly committed to “the common good.” And Bowdoin’s commitment continues. In my three short years association with Bowdoin, I am aware of several young men and women who serve our country in uniform. We should applaud the service of these Bowdoin alumni, who chose to serve their country. It is very important for our nation, to have young men and women, of the caliber of these recent Bowdoin grads chose to serve and lead America’s sons and daughters. They did not have to. As Bowdoin grads, they could have chosen any endeavor to pursue. I want to thank them for their service.

    Bob Shea P’12
    Captain, USN (Retired)

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