WELLSVILLE - Were he alive, tomorrow would be the 68th birthday of Ernest G. Madden, who was killed in action during the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, the Wellsville native will receive an honor on Friday that may be considered a very special birthday present.
A portion of state Route 45, running north from Lisbon Street in the village through Yellow Creek Township to the Madison Township border, will be officially dedicated as the Corporal Ernest G. Madden Memorial Highway in recognition of his service and sacrifice during that conflict.
The ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. near the state Route 7 underpass, with guests including State Rep. Nick Barborak, who introduced House Bill 169, which was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich earlier this year. There will also be a color guard and the unveiling of signs naming the road in honor of Cpl. Madden. The public is invited to attend.
Cpl. Madden was posthumously awarded the Silver Star - the nation's third-highest military honor - by President Lyndon Johnson for bravery in the battle that claimed his life on May 12, 1967. He is buried at Hammondsville Cemetery.
For Jerry Madden of East Liverpool, older brother of Ernest Madden, the dedication marks the achievement of a three-year process to win recognition for Ernest's valor in action. "I never thought we'd get it done," he said with relief.
Madden emphasized his thanks to Barborak and his staff members for their assistance in making the honor a reality. "He always kept me in the loop, let me know when it was going to be voted on, when it was in committee, out of committee, when the governor was going to sign it, and everything. He's been very helpful," Madden said.
Madden, 70, is a retired electrician who worked at the Ergon facility in Newell for 38 years before retiring in 2011. An Army veteran himself, he was stationed in South Korea during the early 1960s at a missile base near the demilitarized zone bordering North Korea.
He and Ernest, separated by two years, were the middle children in a family of eight. "We fought like all brothers do," he said, but they always "banded together" whenever there was trouble. They were actually born in Hammondsville before the family relocated to Wellsville many years later.
The brothers shared their military service in common, and Madden says it was something they talked about and were both very proud of. That pride remains with Madden, who was a member of the Tri-State Burial Group during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Madden recalls the last time they saw each other, while Ernest was home on leave in 1966. At the time, they were 22 and 20, respectively. "We were in Wellsville at my grandmother's house. I think I had a new Mustang," he said. "Of course, he wanted to drive it, and I let him drive it," Madden added with a laugh.
It's a happy memory for Madden, who says he was surprised while reading an article about his brother stating that Ernest would have been 68 this year. "It shocked me, because I always thought of him as still being 20 years old," he said. "I can't age him in my mind, so he's 20 years old."
Madden says one of the hardest parts of thinking about his brother is considering the lives that Ernest - and so many other young men who died in the war - were not able to lead. "They never had a chance to have a wife, they never had a chance to have kids, they never had a chance to have a family or a job," he said. "He never had that opportunity."
Madden is sure that Ernest would be very proud to have such an honor conferred to him. Keeping in mind that Ernest had no spouse or heirs, Madden says that ensuring his brother has a lasting legacy was very important to him.
Madden is also certain that if the roles were reversed, Ernest would have worked just as diligently to secure the same honor for him. "He was just that type of a person," Madden said. "He was a real nice, very nice man."