Robert McMahon and his granddaughter Madison McMahon, 7, stand behind a bench dedicated to his brother, Thomas, in a ceremony in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday afternoon. Thomas was a Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in action in the Vietnam war.

Gov. Paul LePage, seated at right with his wife, Ann, next to him, and others applaud Lewiston High School Class of 1967 for donating a memorial bench dedicated to Thomas J. McMahon in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday afternoon. McMahon’s brothers Robert, front left, and Michael, front, third from left, sit with their families.

LEWISTON — Thomas McMahon was driving his signature hearse with family and friends in Pennsylvania to visit his sister in the mid-1960s when they stopped at a gas station, his brother Michael recalled.

The gas station attendant spotted someone lying in the back of the hearse.

“The guy asked, ‘Is that guy dead?’ My brother said, ‘Yeah.’ The next thing you know, the guy had stepped back and said, ‘You pump your own gas.’ I died laughing for a week after that,” Michael McMahon said.

Classmate Brian Albert recalled piling into the back of McMahon’s hearse for frequent trips to Naples to dance at Serenity Hall on weekends.

“He was just a super guy. He really was,” Albert said.

That theme of a person who enjoyed life and having fun reverberated throughout Veterans Memorial Park on Friday as more than 200 friends and classmates traded stories and memories of Thomas McMahon.

McMahon, who died in Vietnam and received the Medal of Honor for his heroism, was honored Friday by his Lewiston High School Class of 1967 during its 50th class reunion weekend celebration. With members of McMahon’s family present, the class dedicated its gift of a granite bench that honors McMahon and salutes the service of other veterans.

Speaker Paul Dionne, a former mayor of Lewiston, called McMahon’s graduating class “the Great Class of 1967.”

Born in Washington, D.C., before moving to Lewiston, Thomas McMahon had a larger-than-life personality and found friends wherever he went.

“We all liked him,” said classmate Sue Giroux Knapp. “He liked to have a good time. He was really a good guy.”

“I like to tell people that my brother was a wild and crazy guy,” Michael McMahon said. “He was the type of person who enjoyed life, did things on the spur of the moment, but was also very humble.”

Hoping to go to college, McMahon was taking post-graduate courses and working at the former Libbey Mill when he was drafted. He served in the U.S. Army as a combat medic with Company A in Vietnam.

On March 19, 1969, in Quang Tin Province, the lead elements of McMahon’s company came under heavy fire, according to his Medal of Honor citation. Three soldiers fell and were seriously wounded.

“Spc. McMahon, with complete disregard for his safety, left his covered position and ran through intense enemy fire to the side of one of the wounded, administered first aid and then carried him to safety.”

Then, according to the citation, “he returned through the hail of fire to the side of a second wounded man. Although painfully wounded by an exploding mortar round while returning the wounded man to a secure position, Spc. McMahon refused medical attention and heroically ran back through the heavy enemy fire toward his remaining wounded comrade. He fell mortally wounded before he could rescue the last man.”

According to the citation, “McMahon’s undaunted concern for the welfare of his comrades at the cost of his life are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit and the U.S. Army.”

McMahon was one of three Mainers to receive the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam war. 

Those who spoke at the dedication praised his service and commitment.

Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald, a Vietnam veteran, said he never met McMahon, but he knew him because “he who sheds blood with me shall forever be my brother.”

“In 1967, Tommy, like the minstrel boy of the legendary Irish song, joined the Army and went to war,” Macdonald said. “But unlike the minstrel boy, Tommy did not carry a sword, but a medical bag, He was charged with saving lives, not taking them.”

Dionne chose the words of author Nelson Demille. “I remember the men who were really boys grown too old before they had finished their boyhood and who would die too young before any of their dreams were realized.”

He added that McMahon, in his thoughts, took all of his classmates with him on his heroic journey. He praised the “great class” for its special gift at Veterans Memorial Park.

“Today you bring Thomas McMahon back to his roots so that our generation and the children of generations yet to come will know his story and be inspired by his bravery and courage,” Dionne said.

McMahon is listed on a plaque at the entrance to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge between Lewiston and Auburn as one of 17 Lewiston soldiers to die in Vietnam. Temple Elementary School was renamed Thomas J. McMahon Elementary School in 1971.

“I was thrilled when they named the school for him,” Albert said. “I had two grandkids go there and I made sure they knew all about him.”

McMahon’s Medal of Honor is on display at the school, as well as other mementos from his life.

Gov. Paul LePage was a classmate of McMahon and attended the ceremony, but he did not speak.

Following Friday’s ceremony, Michael McMahon reminisced about his younger brother with friends and classmates. He noted that Thomas was the best man at his wedding.

“I think of him every day,” Michael said. “I can only imagine what he and I would have done over the years.”

Scores of people listen to Peter Longley of the Lewiston High School Class of 1967 during the memorial bench dedication to Thomas J. McMahon in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday afternoon.

Gov. Paul LePage and his wife, Ann, right, attend the memorial bench dedication to Thomas J. McMahon in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday afternoon.

A bugler plays at a memorial bench dedication to Thomas J. McMahon in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston on Friday afternoon.

The Rev. Roger Cousineau of East Auburn Baptist Church speaks to the crowd before offering a prayer prior to the unveiling of the memorial bench dedicated to Thomas J. McMahon in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston.

A scene from Friday’s memorial bench dedication to Thomas J. McMahon in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston.

A scene from Friday’s memorial bench dedication to Thomas J. McMahon in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston.

A classmate of Thomas J. McMahon talks with his older brother, Michael McMahon, center, during Friday’s memorial bench dedication in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston.

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