Unsung Hero: Sam Hackenberger of Falmouth, American patriot

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FALMOUTH — Walk into Dunkin’ Donuts on Route 1 on a weekday morning and you might see a group of older gentlemen sitting around, drinking coffee and solving the world’s problems.

The oldest man in the group, the one wearing a Seabees hat, is 97-year-old Sam Hackenberger, a true American patriot.

“I went in there one morning,” Hackenberger said, “and they invited me to join them, so I became a regular. One of the guys picks me up at my place now because I can no longer drive.”

He may not be able to drive, but as a member of the “greatest generation,” he can still inspire.

Hackenberger entered the Valley Forge Military Academy in 1928 as a member of the first class, but he had to leave in his junior year because of the Great Depression.

He then held down several jobs, including working as a hotel bellhop in New York City and Boston. He joined the Army in 1932 and studied communications at West Point, after which he was put on inactive reserve. When World War II broke out, Hackenberger joined the Navy because, he admitted, “I didn’t want to sleep in the mud.”

Working as an electrician with six different battalions in the war in the Pacific, Hackenberger spent much of his time in Guam. His bravery earned him a Victory Medal, a Service Medal and what he describes as “half a Purple Heart,” because a Japanese solider “knocked my teeth out with his rifle butt.”

After the war, Hackenberger worked as the chief electrician at a furniture company in Camden, N.J., for 13 years. From there he took a job as a government employee with the Navy, where he spent 29 years working as an electrician in California and the state of Washington. He retired from the Navy in 1975 and moved with his wife Nancy to Chebeague Island.

They spent 10 happy years on Chebeague, staying active in volunteer work and playing golf. Hackenberger also served as Chebeague’s primary electrician, charging little or nothing for his services.

“I just charged for materials for people who couldn’t afford any more,” he recalled.

In 1985, he moved to a retirement complex in Falmouth where he still lives. Nancy, his wife for 52 years, died in 2005. They had five children, eight grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Hackenberger’s health is still pretty good, although spinal sclerosis makes it difficult to get around. “If I get bored,” he said, “I’ll drive my scooter over to Walmart to get Band-Aids or something.”

Hackenberger used to read a book a day, but now he contents himself with listening to books on tape. “I like adventure stories,” he said. “I’ve got to have action.”

The next big adventure is going to Hawaii with his daughter this month to observe the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7.

By the measures that matter, Hackenberger has lived a most successful life. He survived the Depression; he served his country with great honor during World War II; he raised a large happy family; he learned a trade and practiced it well; and, looking back, he said he has few regrets.

In July, the Alumni Association of the Valley Forge Military Academy voted him an honorary degree, a fitting tribute to the only surviving member of the academy’s first class.

Hackenberger said he was very touched.

Sidebar Elements

Sam Hackenberger of Falmouth, a 97-year-old World War II veteran, is traveling to Hawaii to attend the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Some of Sam Hackenberger’s military medals and mementos.

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net