Unsung Hero: Jim Mardin of Portland, keeping Maine's military history alive
SOUTH PORTLAND — “June 13, 1944: France. Spent the early morning hours beside vehicles. Many German planes flying around the sky was red with tracers.”
Portland resident Jim Mardin was 22 years old when he wrote those words in his log. He and other members of the advanced guard of the 460th Anti-Aircraft Battalion had landed on Omaha Beach on June 12, 1944, six days after the initial D-Day invasion.
Six weeks later, on July 28, he wrote:
“Left Balleroy, France for Cerisy-la-Foret, France. At this time, the breakthrough was being made. We arrived at the new area in an apple orchard and had to dig in the CP tent. This area was covered with foxholes. Had no time to dig a foxhole of own and there were no foxholes in the vicinity. Just after dusk the action began. First we could see flares being dropped close overhead but did not move until the scream of falling bombs could be heard. Dived for a truck. For the rest of the entire night the sky was filled with German planes making the trek back to the beaches or trying to blast the infantry out of their foxholes. Slept on top of the ground but was ready to dive for the truck if the flak began bursting overhead.”
Mardin served his country with honor and humility as a young man during World War II, and he’s been serving others ever since.
He volunteered for the National Guard after returning to Maine from the war, and he was involved in traffic control duty during the forest fires of 1947.
After getting his pilot’s license, he volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol and assisted in search missions.
He served the Maine State Police for 15 years, riding along as a Reserve Trooper in patrol cars.
In 1988, he began volunteering at Maine Medical Center, and he’s put in more than 9,000 hours since that time: indexing records in the library’s archives, distributing information pamphlets in the oncology center, and processing patient mail.
In 2011, Mardin’s wife Bettie died after being confined in a nursing home with Alzheimer's disease.
“The personnel at Sedgewood Commons showed such compassion and gave such extra care that I felt I owed them, and I’ve volunteered there ever since,” Mardin said. He spends two days a week at Sedgewood playing cards with the patients.
Given his distinguished military background and strong drive to serve, it is no surprise that Mardin discovered the Maine Military Museum and Learning Center at 50 Peary Terrace in South Portland. The 12,000-square-foot museum features uniforms, artifacts and memorabilia from Maine veterans who served the country in wars ranging from the Revolutionary War right up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mardin spends several hours each week as an archivist at the museum. He wrote a guide for all the items on display and an index to the brass plaques on the museum’s walls.
As he explained on a tour of the museum, “Everything here has a story. ... The Maine Military Museum is a great way for the younger generation to learn about past wars from viewing all the artifacts on display. It’s also a place where veterans can visit and recall their experiences.”
Mardin celebrated his 91st birthday a few weeks ago. He takes no medications, and he’s in perfect health. He was very reluctant to be profiled, too.
“I’m not a hero,” he protested. “I’m just there.”