Samuel Custer Hackenberger 98

Samuel Custer Hackenberger, 98
Aug. 3, 1914 - Aug. 26, 2012

PORTLAND -- Sam was born in the 'shadow of the White House' in Washington, D.C., the youngest of three children born to Bertram Hackenberger and Bessie Mecklem. His was a surprising yet welcome arrival after a 14 year gap. Bessie was the first female saxophonist in the U.S. Sam accompanied his mother to many performances in Philadelphia, toting her musical instruments in his red wagon- possibly the first known 'roadie!' Sam also became an accomplished saxophonist in his own right, joining the marching band at Valley Forge Military Academy, Pa. His was the first incoming class of cadets. The years at VFMA were among his fondest memories. He attended his 80th homecoming in 2010, with two daughters and grandson Jeffrey, who surprised him by traveling from Maine to the event.

The depression interrupted Sam's ability to graduate as he was forced to return home to New Jersey to fulfill family obligations. In 2010, VFMA awarded him an honorary degree, an unexpected and very proud achievement.

Sam's military career began in the U.S. Army, spanning 1933-1936. Prior to discharge, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, a move that allowed him 'a bunk on a ship instead of a bed in the mud. He served proudly in his capacity as a licensed electrician, achieving many certifications. Proudest was his involvement as a Seabee whose 'CAN DO' attitude became his mantra. Later he served in the U.S. Naval Reserve, 1951-1955.

Sam was wounded during hand-to-hand combat. He was deemed eligible for a Purple Heart but like many of his time, he declined the honor. Although later he pursued acceptance of the award, it is disappointing that his injuries have yet to be WWII service connected as records were destroyed by fire.

Sam married Martha Johnson in New Jersey and had two children. Martha passed away in 1952. In 1953, he married Nancy Barton in San Diego, Calif., and together had three children. He retired to Chebeague Island in 1975, embracing his love of the Island and Casco Bay. In his later years, Sam and Nancy became residents of Falmouth.

Following a heart attack in 1983 he became a dedicated participant of the USM Heartline program, attending weekly classes. He attributed this exercise regime to his strong and healthy existence, forming devoted friendships through his involvement. He remained active in the program until age 96.

In December 2011, Sam traveled with his daughter Jean to the 70th reunion of Pearl Harbor, which was a highlight of his life.

He celebrated his 98th birthday earlier this month. He reflected often, stating no regrets in his life; that he would not change a single thing.

Sam had a generous nature, a playful and adventurous spirit. As Vice Commander of the Falmouth American Legion Post #164, he enjoyed friendships with the members, which involved a morning coffee routine. Sam was often seen on his motorized chair, an orange safety flag waving his identity 'Sam I Am.'

He was predeceased by his parents; brother Bertram Jr., sister Ruth Stevenson; and his loving wives. He is survived by son James (Rosemary), San Marcos, Calif., Jean Cummings (Robert), Sequim, Wash., son Michael of Washington, daughter Nancy Vachon (Jim) Portland, daughter Ruthie Noble (Chuck McCatherin) Falmouth; grandchildren Chief Master Sgt. Dennis Hackenberger, Pam McConnell (Patrick), Melanie Curnow (David) Sandra Bradford (Dan), Donna Meyer (Todd Nichols), Jeffrey (Beth), Jeremy and Ruthie Putnam; and 17 great-grandchildren.

The family sends special thanks to those who, in Sam's final days, tended to his comfort. The Gosnell House offered a wonderful experience for Sam and the family, all who treated Sam at Maine Medical Center, Maine Veteran's Home of Scarborough, physician and friend Dr. James Kirsh and staff, Dr. Howard Glass and staff and Beach Glass Transitions.

Sam made it his policy to pay it forward. The Salvation Army treated him well during his war years and he would urge consideration of this resource when donating useful items.

Caring relatives and friends are invited to gather at the home of Chuck and Ruthie, 25 Kelley Rd., Falmouth, on Sept. 15, from 3 to 6 p.m., to share thoughts and memories. Light fare will be provided. To offer words of condolence and share memories with the family, please go to the obituaries section at

Monetary donations may be
made in Sam's memory to:
The Gosnell Memorial
Hospice House
11 Hunnewell Drive
Scarborough, Maine 04074
It was there in the beautiful sunny gardens, surrounded by family,
that Sam took his last breath.
As always, Sam did it his way!

Graveside internment for will be Monday September 17 1 pm at the Chebeague Island Cemetery.

Sam loved Chebeague Island, when asked in his final days where he wanted to go if he could go anywhere in the world he said Chebeague.

The family would like to thank Mark Dyer for singing dad his favorite song "A Place Called Casco Bay" during his final hours this meant so much to him and he asked us all to be sure that song is never forgotten.

Feature Obituary: Samuel Hackenberger, 98, decorated veteran of World War II
By Melanie Creamer
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH – Motorists who travel Route 1 near the Falmouth Shopping Center would likely know Samuel Hackenberger.

Samuel Hackenberger was serving as vice commander of American Legion Post 164.

Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.
He was the elderly man often seen riding a motorized wheelchair adored with an American flag and a tall bright orange flag bearing the name "Sam I Am."

Mr. Hackenberger, 98, was a decorated World War II veteran who became an electrician for the Navy, and was currently serving as vice commander of American Legion Post 164 in Falmouth.

Since 2004, Mr. Hackenberger's daughter has tried to fulfill his dream of receiving the Purple Heart that he earned when he was wounded during World War II.

Sadly, Mr. Hackenberger won't see his dream come true. He died Sunday at the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House.

"It meant so much to him," Nancy Vachon, of Portland, said of her father's wish to be recognized with the Purple Heart. "He was very proud of the fact that he earned it and was regretful in his later years that he turned it down. At the time, he didn't feel that he deserved it. He felt like there were so many people worse off than him. He felt pretty lucky to be alive."

Mr. Hackenberger served in the Army from 1933 to 1936. Prior to his discharge, he enlisted in the Navy and served as a licensed electrician with the Seabees.

During World War II, he was wounded in hand-to-hand combat on Guam in the Marianas. One night while on cave duty, he encountered a Japanese soldier who hit him in the face with his rifle, knocking his teeth out. He spent weeks in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

He was eligible for a Purple Heart, but declined the honor. He later pursued the award, but the records of his injuries were destroyed in a fire, Vachon said. Sen. Susan Collins' office is reviewing the case, and Vachon said she will continue her efforts to secure her father's Purple Heart.

Mr. Hackenberger later served in the Naval Reserve from 1951 to 1955. He spent his career working as an electrician for the Navy.

He was married to Martha Johnson and raised two children. She died in 1952. The next year, he married Nancy Barton and they had three children. The Hackenbergers retired to Chebeague Island in 1975, and later moved to Falmouth.

He was remembered by his daughter Friday as a kind and generous man, who loved his family and lived life to the fullest.

In 1983, Mr. Hackenberger suffered a heart attack that propelled him to re-evaluate his life.

He got active in the University of Southern Maine's Heartline program, where he attended weekly health and exercise classes. He remained active in the program until age 96.

A highlight of his life came in 2010, when he attended the 80th homecoming at Valley Forge Military Academy, Pa. The academy awarded him an honorary degree.

Another thrilling moment came last year when he attended the 70th reunion at Pearl Harbor. Vachon said the locals treated her father like a celebrity. The event was covered by CNN. Local viewers saw Mr. Hackenberger in the front row wearing his blue Falmouth American Legion Post 164 hat. "He loved every second of it," his daughter said.

Mr. Hackenberger was a "diehard" Partriots and Red Sox fan.

He was active in American Legion Post 164 in Falmouth, where he was currently serving as vice commander.

Nearly every morning, he joined a group of men at Dunkin' Donuts for coffee and camaraderie.

Art Frederiksen, a past commander of the post, remembered him Friday as a gentleman, who never boasted about his contributions during his years of service. Frederiksen said the group has helped in the effort to get Mr. Hackenberger his Purple Heart.

"It never materialized. We always felt bad about that," Frederiksen said. "He was an unsung hero. He did a lot of wonderful things. Sam was very much revered by all the old cronies that gather at Dunkin' Donuts. When they heard he passed away, they were so sad. He was a shining example of a good gentleman."

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: