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The Last Hurrah

The Last Hurrah

Posted - Nov. 24, 2004 at 9:25 p.m.



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Bruce Lindsay reporting Sixty years ago tonight, American soldiers fighting to liberate France reached the German border.

A part of France marked its liberation anniversary with extraordinary celebrations -- all the result of a Utah man's misfortune that led from one thing to another.

The French, who hailed American liberators back in '44, embrace those same-- now old--soldiers again.

How they got the chance to do this, is quite a story.

We'll start when Sergeant Joe Stobbe of Salt Lake City landed in Normandy. For five months, he fought his way across France. He'd been wounded twice, before he reached the village of Metzervisse, where he earned a third purple heart.

As Stobbe's platoon was sweeping a house for Nazi soldiers, a bullet struck him in the elbow, sending fragments of lead through his arm. Those wounds meant he would not fight again.

In 1945, Stobbe returned home to Utah, married his sweetheart, and became a doctor.

Our story now jumps ahead to September 2001. Joseph Stobbe was retracing his war time path across France, this time driving a rental car. He arrived on the edge of Metzervisse, where he nearly died in 1944, and decided to take a picture of the sign.

Dr. Joseph Stobbe, WW II Veteran: "And I was busy thinking of that, and was not paying attention to the road, and wham, this car hit us on the side and totaled the car and broke my leg."

Shattered his leg. Once again in the same village, Joseph Stobbe was nearly killed.

The ambulance took him to the hospital for surgery. It was November 12th. The world was still watching the smoking ruin of the World Trade Center.

When police chief Pascal Morretti learned Stobbe was an American liberator of his village, he rounded up a few other patriots to go and cheer him up.

Pascal Morretti, Police Chief, Metzervisse, France: "We visited him in the hospital. We took some pictures that we sent to his family to reassure them."

Those well wishers were followed by reports in the newspaper, and on TV, telling the story of the liberator's double misfortune.

Pascal Morretti, Police Chief, Metzervisse, France: “Later, Mayors of the villages said to me, 'It's too bad. We would have liked to have told him 'thank you.' I looked at them and said, 'Why not?'"

So, Morretti formed a committee, enlisted 30 towns and raised 200-thousand dollars, to give Stobbe and the region's other liberators -- those few still alive-- this hearty Last Hurrah.

Fifty veterans who fought here 60 years ago crossed the Atlantic again for this party, featuring old Jeeps named after heros.

"Stobbe? Ah Stobbe! .... Stobbe. Stobbe."

Village after village, town after town, hailed the veterans with firemen's bands.

They entertained them as Glen Miller had entertained the troops. They served them their finest cuisine. They hailed their returning American friends with prayers of gratitude.

War memorials to villagers who died, bear new engravings for the American fighters.

"Our children must understand the price of liberty. The blood they shed. What they did for us is wonderful. They gave us the most beautiful gift in the world: freedom."

The people of Metzervisse had a gift to give back to Joseph Stobbe, who accidentally started all this.

They marched down the hill, for one more ceremony, to dedicate a square that now bears the Utah soldier's name.

In the village, where twice he nearly died, it's a little bit of immortality.

You can read more on this story, in tomorrow's Deseret Morning News, and see more on Eyewitness News at 6:30 Thursday.

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