By: Sen. Susan M. Collins
On July 18, 1918, Private Arthur Labbay was engaged in a fierce battle in France during World War I. During his dangerous assignment of running from one foxhole to another reloading machine guns, he was shot in the right arm by enemy fire. While Private Labbay was seeking a medic to treat his serious injury, he received another nearly fatal wound from a bullet that punctured his throat.
More than 101 years later, I was honored to present the Purple Heart this American hero earned but never received to his daughters, Pauline Labbay Blais and Charlotte Landry, along with his granddaughter Kathy Dostie.
In addition to other family members, the ceremony in my Lewiston Constituent Service Center was attended by Major General Douglas Farnham, the Adjutant General of the Maine National Guard, and Colonel Andrew Gibson, Maine Army National Guard Chaplain. It was so inspiring to join the family and friends in paying tribute to Arthur Labbay’s exemplary courage, sacrifice, and devotion to duty.
On July 18th of this year, the 101st anniversary of the day Private Labbay was wounded, his daughter Pauline, who lives in Greene, reached out to my office to inquire whether her late father was eligible for the Purple Heart. I contacted the Department of Defense and provided them with a packet of information regarding Private Labbay’s service. The Army then determined that he had indeed earned the medal.
One of the most rewarding experiences I have as a United States Senator is to help our veterans and their families obtain the medals they earned but never received. It is humbling to reflect upon the valor each medal represents. I have often been called upon to work on getting long overdue medals for our service members, but it has never been for a WWI service member, and that made this event incredibly special.
Arthur Labbay was born in 1894 and enlisted in the Army when the United States entered World War I. He was assigned to Company H, 3rd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment and sent to France. The combat in which he was wounded was one the first battles the American Expeditionary Force fought against a powerful and experienced German foe.
His wounds were so grievous that he required months of hospitalization in France. He returned home on Christmas Eve 1918, married, and had four daughters and two sons. He lived in Lewiston and worked making coils at a local foundry. He was affected by the wounds for the rest of his life and was a patient for many years at Togus VA Medical Center, yet he confronted his injuries with the same courage and determination he demonstrated in combat. When he passed away in 1980, his final resting place was at Saint Peter’s Cemetery in Lewiston.
The meaning of the Purple Heart Medal carries the sentiments of troops going back to the 18th century. The Badge of Military Merit, the Purple Heart’s origin and inspiration, was established by George Washington in 1782.
The Purple Heart is among the most powerful symbols in America. It represents the profound sacrifice of the service member who earned this honor. The men and women who put themselves in harm’s way, and who carry the wounds of battle, along with the loved ones who care for them, deserve our deepest respect.
“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.” Those words by America’s General of the Armies in the First World War, John Pershing, still ring true today. Although 101 years have passed since Private Labbay was severely wounded in the Great War, his story continues to inspire us.
Throughout our nation’s history, young Americans have left the comforts of home to defend our freedom and to secure freedom for others. Arthur Labbay is part of that history.