by John Stratton
Philip G. Hopkins has a lot to be thankful for—first, the love of an extended family, and then a chestful of medals hard-earned in places like the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest in the tough winter of 1944-1945, as a part of the 976th Field Artillery in the Ninth Army.
And here in Waterford on July 3 at Greentree Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center—where he’s been a resident for a few months—it was about pride and reminiscence. U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney and his veterans-affairs staff were there; State Representative Betsy Ritter was there; and Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward. And a host of relatives, including his granddaughter, Hilary Schroeder, RN, who is the Unit Manager for Philip’s group; his brother, Everett Hopkins, 86; and Philip’s wife of 65 years, Clara.
Joe Courtney’s office, working with Greentree Executive Michael Lombardo and Administrator Jim Dahl, was responsible for recovering the thought-to-be-lost records of Philip’s medals—and for re-issuing and formally presenting them in a glass-covered box at the Greentree gathering.
The awards are the Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze service stars, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal–Germany clasp, Honorable Service Lapel Button–World War II, and the Rifleman Expert Badge with Carbine Bar.
That’s a lot to do in a short time. A young lad from Windham, Philip joined up in 1943 at the age of 17 without his parents’ permission, went through training and off to England, and arrived in Belgium in December 1944, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge…the most costly battle for the U.S. in the war.
And of that, what does he remember the most? In brief, he says, “The shells, and the shelling.”
But not only did he survive that campaign and others, including the Occupation, in 1946 he was able to return to Preston, where he began a working career of 42 years with Thermos—the American Thermos Bottle Company—that at one time employed some 1000 people in Norwich and Taftville from 1913 to 1988. It was a hard-working, often six-day-a-week, career that set an example for his eight kids and grandkids, without much time for the luxury of reminiscing.
But sometimes remembrances are insisted upon, and this July 3 was one of those times to look back, while moving ahead.
Granddaughter Hilary has treasured getting to know her grandfather better in the friendly environment of Greentree, she says.
“He talks and jokes, tells stories, and makes me look at life differently. It’s been the most amazing gift—he’s changed my life.”
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