Moselle River 1944 Association – How It All Came About
The following is from reporter Bruce Lindsay's story that was reported on Salt Lake City TV in late 2004.
Sixty years ago, a bullet almost ended the life of Joseph Stobbe (90th Infantry Division, 358th regiment, G Company) when as a platoon sergeant he entered the village of Metzervisse, France to drive out occupying Nazi forces. As his platoon was sweeping a house for Nazi soldiers a bullet struck him in the elbow sending fragments of lead through his arm. The wounds meant he would not fight again. He returned home to Utah in 1945, married his sweetheart, and became a doctor.
Then in September 2001, Dr. Joseph Stobbe, a now retired Sall Lake City physician, decided to retrace his war time path across France. He took with him Bill Naylor (also a 90th veteran) and a cousin. They rented a car for their tour. When they arrived on the edge of Metzervisse where he nearly lost his life in 1944, they decided to stop and take a picture of the sign. He states, "I was busy thinking of that time so long ago 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. The ambulance took him to the hospital for surgery. It was November 12, just two months after the World Trade Center attacks.
When police chief Pascal Moretti learned Stobbe was an American liberator of his village, he rounded up a few other patriots to go and cheer him up. He says, "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 goes on to say, "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 Moretti formed a committee, the Moselle River 1944 Association, enlisted 30 towns and raised over $200,000 to give Stobbe and the region's other liberators who were still living, a hearty Last Hurrah.
Through British author, Tony Kemp, Pascal contacted the 90th Division Association and pictures of Joseph Stobbe in the hospital were printed in the Association’s February 2003 newsletter. Pascal, his wife, Jose, and committee member, Jean Pascal Speck (owner of Hotel L’Horizon in Thionville) came to our 2004 Alexandria, Virginia reunion. In November 2004, more than 50 WWII soldiers from the 90th, 95th, and 5th Infantry Divisions and the 3rd Cavalry, along with many family members, crossed the Atlantic again to return to the Moselle and be welcomed back as heroes.
For most of the week of November 9-16 the veterans and their families were honored with parades, banquets, speeches, receptions, religious services and the unveiling of new monuments and statues. Every stop produced its local fireman's band to play ''The Star-Spangled Banner” and the French National Anthem, "The Marseilles". Throngs of children waving American and French flags greeted the aging veterans at each appearance.
But the most heartfelt greetings came from senior citizens who remembered the first time these soldiers arrived in November 60 years ago. Marie-Jeanne Chablin of Terville remembered: "Truly, we knew they were our liberators, that was for sure. We couldn't think of anything else. It was wonderful." In Thionville, a woman who might have been Joseph Stobbe’s contemporary, pulled him toward her to bestow an enthusiastic kiss. Claude Thuiller was a boy in the village of Luttange the first time he saw such a kiss. "An enormous cry of joy went up when he saw the Americans coming," he said. “Everybody ran out to greet them and the young women and the not-so-young women climbed up on their vehicles and kissed the Americans. Thuiller suppressed a tear as he said, "The memory of the Americans is something extraordinary."
Moretti chooses to emphasize a more lasting gift. "Our children must understand the price of liberty; the bloodshed. What they did for us is wonderful. None of these people knew us. They came from America. What did they have to do with the Lorraine, with France? However, they gave us the most beautiful gift in the world: freedom."
For the veterans and family members who attended this week of events there are no words to adequately describe the love that was showered on them in every village visited. All who were there came home with a new attitude of love and respect for the people of the Lorraine region and with memories that will last forever.
Metz-Thionvile area of France