On Sept. 18, 1944, a US Army regiment crossed from the Netherlands into Germany, where it met fierce resistance from enemy forces. During the ensuing days of heavy combat and house-to-house battles, Private Arthur M. Hodges Jr., a Mansfield resident, was killed in action.
Hodges, who had worked at the chocolate refinery in town before joining the Army in May 1944, lost his life on Sept. 25, just three days shy of his 26th birthday. Nearly seven decades later, his story, and those of all but one of the 51 other Mansfield residents who died serving in the nation’s wars in the 20th century, have been brought to life through a newly published book by town resident Earl Austin Mason.
The product of three years of painstaking research, “The Mindset of a Patriot: A Badge of Honor” provides vivid accounts of the local men, including details about their lives before they went to war, their families, their military service, and the circumstances of their deaths. The 192-page book is also dense with photographs, including of the men and where they lived.
Mason, 79, a retired AT&T manager and an Air Force veteran from the Korean War era, said he wrote the book to highlight the enormity of the sacrifices made by the 52 Mansfield residents, and by extension the more than 650,000 US military personnel overall that he estimates died serving in the 20th century.
“Even the most careful selection of words cannot properly frame the true depth of each life lost in battle,” he wrote in the book’s dedication. “Each was permanent, each is forever. They are life-ending sacrifices that remain today as a part of each of us, and they will carry on through all generations to follow.”
Of the Mansfield natives — all men — featured in the book, 37 died in World War II, 12 in World War I, two in the Korean War, and one in the Vietnam War. The book does not include a profile of one of the World War II dead because information on him could not be confirmed at the time of publishing, Mason said.
In a recent interview, Mason said he hopes the book, put out by Tate Publishing, will also serve as a reminder of the loss that families had to endure.
“We were a town of 5,000, and we had one family that lost three sons,” he said. “We had two that lost two sons. We had three children who never had the honor of meeting their fathers. We had eight fiancées that had to begin their lives over again,’’ said Mason, who with his wife, Loretta, has two children and three grandchildren.
Kevin McNatt, president of the Mansfield Historical Society — Mason is the group’s treasurer — said the book is an invaluable resource for the town and a fitting tribute to its war dead.
“It’s a book that should be in every home in Mansfield. I think that everyone ought to read it and that every family should look at it and appreciate it,” McNatt said. “It really brings home that these guys were our neighbors and people who grew up right here in Mansfield and deserve to be remembered.”
Mason said he did not personally know any of the men depicted in his book, the vast majority of whom were older when he was growing up in Mansfield. But, he said: “I knew of them in school. They were the kinds of guys I looked up to.”
Two of the World War II casualties, Anthony Flammia and his brother Frank, were both active students at Mansfield High School, Mason wrote in his book. Anthony was captain of the varsity baseball team, while Frank played baseball and football — he was captain of the 1943 football team, managed the basketball team, and was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and the yearbook board.
Mason said an additional motivation for him to write the book is his conviction that this country is failing to properly honor the sacrifices of those who died in war.
They “didn’t sacrifice all the remaining years of life so 1 percent of the population could control all the power and the money in the country,” he said. “They didn’t do it so that Wall Street could gamble away the life savings of middle-class America. They did it for all the reasons people all over want to come to America — for peace, safety and security, and for equal opportunity.
“We really need to do something to fix it,” he said of returning the nation to those values.
A 1952 graduate of Mansfield High, Mason served in the Air Force from 1953 to 1957, and was stationed in Germany with an Air Force Security Service radio squadron, and in Texas as a reclamation specialist.
After leaving the Air Force, he spent 31 years with AT&T, retiring as director of corporate assets for New England and New York after working in the company’s White Plains, N.Y., office. Following his retirement, he worked as a mechanic at his son’s Corvette dealership in Stamford, Conn. In 2005, he and his wife moved back to Mansfield.
Shortly after returning to Mansfield, Mason joined the historical society and took on a project to research the story of Corporal Robert Francis Hardy, one of the two Mansfield residents who died in the Korean War.
Mason said the research prompted him to wonder why the town — which has named squares or taken other actions to memorialize many of its residents who died in World War II — had not done the same for its residents killed in Korea.
That spurred him to work with McNatt and a sister of Hardy’s to get a conservation area near where Hardy had grown up named after the Korean War veteran. The experience in turn led him to the book project.
In researching the book — which is available on Amazon.com — Mason tapped a variety of sources, from military archives to town and historical society records, old newspapers and high school yearbooks, and the remembrances of relatives of the men he featured.
John Hogan, who retired as Mansfield’s veterans agent in February and wrote a booklet on the town’s World War II dead several years ago, said he appreciated the amount of work Mason invested in his project.
“You have to have a passion for history and a passion for the military, and obviously for your town,” Hogan said. “He has all three.”John Ladler can be reached at laidler@ globe.com.