Click HERE for a high-resolution of Senator Collins and Charles Shay
Click HERE for a high-resolution photo of Senators Collins, King with Henry Breton
Normandy, France — Today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins met with two Maine World War II veterans who made the trip to France to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day during World War II — Charles Norman Shay, a Penobscot Tribal Elder, and Henry Breton, an Augusta native who was one of four brothers to serve during World War II. Senator Collins was part of the official, bipartisan Senate Delegation participating in an official government event at the American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer.
“Today I had the honor to meet with two Mainers who made countless sacrifices to protect our country during World War II — Charles Shay, a member of the Penobscot tribe and a graduate of Old Town High School, and Henry Breton of Augusta,” said Senator Collins.
“Charles was a medic who risked his own life by repeatedly going back into the water to rescue wounded and drowning soldiers. For his heroism, he was awarded a Silver Star,” Senator Collins continued. “When I talked to Charles today, I called him a hero. He replied: ‘I am not a hero; I was just doing my job. The real heroes are those who are in that cemetery.’”
“Henry and his brothers served bravely in World War II,” said Senator Collins. “After returning from war, Henry played an active role in the Augusta community, serving as president of Le Club Calumet. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to thank Henry, in person, for all that he has done for the State of Maine and for our country.”
In April 1943, almost a year after graduation from Old Town High School, Charles was drafted into the U.S. Army and trained as a combat medic. As a combat medic, 19-year-old Private Shay was assigned to an assault battalion in the first wave of attack on June 6, 1944. For his valor on the battlefield, having rescued drowning wounded comrades under enemy fire, he received the Silver Star. After frontline duty in the Battle of the Bulge and the Rhine, he was captured in the Sieg Valley. Spending nearly a month in German prison camps, Shay was liberated on April 18. In 1945, after World War II had ended, he was awarded four bronze battle stars and demobilized.
Shay went on to serve as a medic in the Korean War, where he received the Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters for Valor and was nominated for a second Silver Star. Six months after his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, Shay joined the Air Force Reserve in February 1952. In the summer of 1964, after more than twenty years in the U.S. military, Master Sergeant Shay retired and, a year later, obtained a position with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), headquartered in Vienna, where he worked for 20 years.
Over the last decade, Shay has given many talks in France and in the U.S. about his military service and Indian heritage. On June 5, 2017, Shay was honored at a ceremony dedicating the Charles Shay Indian Memorial in Saint Laurent-sur-Mer Park, on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.
Henry Breton, of Augusta, enlisted at 18. He spent time on the Red Ball Highway, ferrying supplies to the front lines, driving a supply truck without lights at night. Breton landed in the second wave of boats on D-Day, 35-minutes after the first. He also served during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. Henry ended up toting a rifle even though his primary role was driver and courier for the Signal Corps in a detachment that laid communication lines at the front.
Back home, Breton returned to the cotton mill and then went on to work at Augusta Supply, Pomerleau’s. He later owned a water-proofing business franchise and Maine Billiards, before finally retiring in 1989. He served as president of Le Club Calumet, Augusta’s Franco-American club, in 1964.