Delbert Longworth was remembered at a dedication ceremony in France this past May for his heroism
Private Delbert Longworth entered military service on Nov. 13, 1942, and his remains arrived home in Sleepy Eye on Nov. 2, 1948, where he was laid to rest at St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Delbert enlisted in the Army on Nov. 13, 1942, and received training at Camp Polk, La. before going to California for desert training. He was then sent to Fort Benning, Ga., then to England. He remained in England until he was sent to France a short time later. It is believed he was stationed in France for only eight days before his death.
Delbert was born in Sleepy Eye, to Julius and Leona Longworth on June 2, 1919. He had four brothers, George, Leslie, Stanley and Harold. Harold was also born on June 2, six years after Delbert in 1925. Delbert also has a younger sister, Donna.
Brothers, George and Leslie served in the Navy prior to WWII, while Harold and Stanley are both veterans of the Korean War Era. Delbert played football in high school and was an exceptional football player at St. Mary’s High School in Sleepy Eye. Delbert’s nickname was “Bert” and many people called Harold “Dorry.” It seems the townspeople of Sleepy Eye often confused the two and would call Harold “Bert” when he entered the local pub.
In August 2012, Gary Longworth and his brother, Charles, both nephews of Delbert, received a phone call from a historian for the 7th Armored Division Association, Wesley Johnston.
Over the course of the next eight months, correspondence between Wesley, the Longworths and the citizens of Echarcon, France, would put into motion the events of May 8, 2013.
Through Johnston’s extensive research, the villagers of Echarcon, France learned the name of the American soldier who died Aug. 22, 1944.
On that date a 3-man reconnaissance jeep from the 7th Armored Division, carrying scout Pvt. Delbert J. Longworth, and two others, was sent out to seek places to cross the Essone River north of Balloncourt. As they approached the town of Echarcon, a young woman caught sight of the jeep and its American flag flying.
Realizing the situation, she immediately rushed to ring the church bell announcing the liberation.
The jeep had to carefully maneuver around three mines that were strategically placed in the road as they approached. Once they drew near the bridge the Germans defending the bridge suddenly fired upon them. The jeep reversed in haste, running over one of the mines in the road.
The occupants of the jeep were severely wounded and the jeep’s scout, Pvt. Delbert J. Longworth was killed.
Over 60 years later, after finally learning the identity of their fallen American hero, the French villagers wished to renew their dedication and honor Pvt. Delbert J. Longworth.
The date they chose was May 8, 2013, the Allied Victory over Nazi Germany and the end of World War II in France marked by the announcement of the surrender of Germany. This day is called by the Anglophones “VE Day” for “Victory in Europe Day”
Charles and Barb Longworth of New Ulm, one of Delbert’s nephews, along with their daughter, Rebecca, were fortunate enough to attend the dedication in France. The day’s agenda was full, including the ceremony to dedicate the new memorial plaque unveiled by family members of Delbert.
“Sleepy Eye is not unlike Echarcon; a small rural town surrounded by farmland and river valleys,” Charles said in a speech at the event. “I am sure that Delbert’s military experience was a great adventure for him, as he had not traveled far from Sleepy Eye until he joined the army.”
The mayor of Echarcon spoke, saying nearly 70 years ago, the French people of Echarcon participated, along with the Americans, some giving their lives, for the liberation of Echarcon, almost a year before the end of a war that lasted six years, making 55 million victims, 35 million wounded, 3 million missing, one and a half million killed by aerial bombardment, with more civilian than military casualties in the latter.
“This is 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. Those (values) whose names are human dignity, tolerance, freedom, brotherhood, solidarity and equality in the Republic and democracy,” he said.
The night before the ceremony a resident of the village returned a helmet of an American soldier that he found in the late 60s when he was about 15 years old. It was found at the site of the tragedy, on the other side of the park wall with the remains of a jeep.
This is almost certainly the helmet of one of the three Americans present in the jeep that fateful day. Perhaps even belonging to Pvt. Delbert Longworth.
Delbert Longworth was one casualty out of hundreds of thousands of deaths incurred in the liberation of France and other European countries. Their bravery and unselfishness multiplied thousands of times over by soldiers and citizens liberated Europe so those citizens can experience the freedoms we all enjoy today.
The ceremony on May 8 was for the fallen heroes to be remembered.