By Fritz Busch
NEW ULM - Descendants of a Sleepy Eye Army private in the 7th Armored Division who died in a land mine explosion in Echarcon, France on August 22, 1944 were led to a celebration on May 8, 2013 in the French village commemorating the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.
Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Gary Longworth, left, of New Ulm, holds a photo of his uncle U.S. Private Delbert J. Longworth, a member of the 7th Armored Division who died in a land mine explosion in Echarcon, France in August, 1944, Julie Longworth holds what is believed to have been Delbert Longworth’s helmet recovered by the French, and Brenda Longworth, who wrote “A Soldier’s Tribute” to Delbert Longworth.
The date of the event signified the end of World War II in France, marked by the announcement of Germany's surrender, aka VE (Victory in Europe) Day.
Brenda Longworth of New Ulm said her husband Gary and his brother Charles of New Hope, Pa., received phone calls from 7th Armored Division Association Historian Wesley Johnson in August 2012.
Johnson said he was looking for relatives of Pvt. Delbert J. Longworth who was stationed in France during WW II. Thanks to Johnson's extensive research, Echarcon, France residents learned that Longworth was the only American soldier who died with a Frenchman in the explosion in the village in August 1944.
Brenda Longworth collected the story of of Delbert Longworth's service and death in France, and has written it up for her family.
She found an Army reconnaissance jeep with a three-man scouting team was sent to find places to cross the Essone River, according to the Army. Soldiers in the jeep included 2nd Lt. Woodrow H. McCormack, Pfc. George R. Burhance, and a scout, Pvt. Delbert Longworth.
As the jeep approached Echarcon, a young woman, Alice Couvert, noticed the jeep and its American flag. A church sacristan, Couvert rushed to ring the church bell announcing the liberation.
The bell drew a local citizen, Robert Coudray, and his daughter Roberta from their home. They saw the jeep with the three soldiers and two villagers. Coudray joined the group to examine the bridge over the river.
The jeep maneuvered around three mines noticed in the road. Near the bridge, German soldiers began firing on them. The jeep backed up quickly and ran over one of the mines.
Coudray was seriously wounded in the blast. He was transported to a U.S. military hospital in France where he later died of injuries. Burhance was seriously wounded but recovered from his wounds and later returned to active duty. McCormack was slightly wounded. One of the Frenchmen lost a leg in the blast. The other Frenchman suffered a broken leg.
Delbert Longworth died and was initially buried in France. His body was later disinterred and reburied in the family plot of Sleepy Eye St. Mary's Cemetery.
He was born June 2, 1919 to Julius and Leona Longworth in Sleepy Eye. Two of his brothers, George and Leslie served in the Navy prior to WWII. Brothers Harold and Stanley were Korean War era veterans. Delbert and Harold both played high school football. Delbert's nephew Charles described his brother and Sleepy Eye in his May 8, 2013 speech at the commemoration in France.
"Sleepy Eye is not unlike Echarcon - a small, rural town surrounded by farmland and river valleys. With his four brothers, Delbert enjoyed the outdoors, hunting and fishing in the country," Charles said. "He was very fit, excelling in high school athletics. I am sure his military experience was a great adventure for him. He had not traveled far from Sleepy Eye until he joined the Army."
A story that appeared in the Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch shortly after Delbert's death read that his last letter home was written August 18, 1944, four days before he died. The newspaper story added that Delbert joined the Army on Nov. 13, 1942, trained in Fort Polk, La., went to California for desert training, then Fort Benning, Ga. before traveling to England. Prior to joining the Army, Delbert worked at a packing plant, according to the story.
Echarcon Mayor Guy Clerc's speech last May was given in France when a new memorial plaque was unveiled by Rebecca Longworth, Delbert's great niece.
"American and French soldiers fought side by side in 1918 and 1944. This fraternity will remain the symbol of the unity of freedom-loving people.
"Sixty-nine years ago, the French and Americans participated in the liberation of Echarcon, some giving their lives, almost a year before the end of the war that lasted six years. The war included 55 million victims, 35 million wounded, three million missing, and one and one-half million killed by aerial bombardment.
"I want to pay tribute to all soldiers committed to a just cause; military, resistance and civilians...thanks for coming to thank those who liberated us from the Nazis at the cost of their lives. Their commitment was not only the liberation of territory, but also a fight for values, whose names are human dignity, tolerance, freedom, brotherhood, solidarity, and equality in the republic and democracy.
"Values opposed by those who dared lend themselves to shameful collaboration with the (Nazi) occupier...It happened nearly 70 years ago, fueled by the 1929 economic crisis, and can happen again if we let it...It is the whole of humanity, which risks being lost.
"For history not to repeat itself, we need to build a society that puts people at the heart of its concerns. We need to promote a world of social development, solidarity and democracy.
"Each city is a human community that can impose the rules of fruitful and harmonious living together, developing an active policy of education toward peace, solidarity and culture in all its areas of intervention. A municipality participates, with its own means, in the difficult but challenging fight for the brotherhood of mankind... Long live peace."
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com