Pauline Labbay Blais of Greene accepts her father’s Purple Heart medal from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Gen. Douglas Farnham in Collins’ Lewiston office Wednesday afternoon. Pauline’s father, Arthur Labbay, was a World War I veteran who was severely wounded while fighting in France. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Arthur Labbay was scrambling from foxhole to foxhole reloading machine guns during a fierce fight in France on July 18, 1918.

It was his first day on the front lines in World War I.

The Purple Heart and photographs of Arthur Labbay, a World War I veteran who was severely wounded while fighting in France. He was awarded the Purple Heart on Wednesday. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

During the firefight, an enemy bullet struck the private’s throat. Despite the seriousness of the injury, Labbay stayed on the job reloading machine guns. Before the day ended, Labbay suffered a second wound, this time to his arm.

The injuries were life-threatening. Labbay stayed in a French hospital for several months recovering from his wounds before he could return home.

“He told us a quarter of an inch more, he would have been gone,” his daughter Pauline Blais said of the throat wound.

More than 101 years later, Labbay finally received the Purple Heart he earned that day. Whether through missing paperwork, the fog of war or an administrative mishap, he had never received his medal.

A ceremony marking his heroic act was held Wednesday at U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office in Lewiston.

His two daughters, Blais, 88, and Charlotte Landry, 96, accepted the medal along with his granddaughter Kathy Dostie. Her father, Ludger Labbay, the third of Arthur’s six children still alive, was unable to attend.

Other family members in attendance included Blais’ husband, Richard, and Dostie’s husband, Michel.

Also participating in the military ceremony were Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham, the leader of the Maine National Guard, and Col. Andrew Gordon, the Maine National Guard’s chaplain.

Collins has helped several families receive the Purple Heart medals to which they were entitled, but never for a veteran from WWI.

“When I first got the memo from my staff telling me that they were working on this case involving a Purple Heart medal for a World War I veteran, I thought it was a mistake. I thought it must be World War II,” Collins said following the ceremony.

“It’s a remarkable story,” she added.

Photographs of Arthur Labbay, a World War I veteran who was severely wounded while fighting in France, and who was awarded the Purple Heart on Wednesday. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The story begins with his birth in Vermont in 1894. At age 24, Labbay arrived in France to join the force headed by Gen. John J. Pershing in fighting Germany. Assigned one of the more dangerous duties, Labbay repeatedly went to each foxhole supplying the vital machine guns before getting struck twice by enemy fire on his first day at the front.

Labbay returned home months later on Christmas Eve, his daughter Landry said. He married and had four daughters and two sons. According to the 1940 Census, Labbay lived in Lewiston and worked making coils at a local foundry. Despite his injuries, he lived a long life and died in 1980.

The quest for the missing medal began earlier this year when Blais spoke to family friend Walt Gary, a 30-year veteran of the Navy. After he helped her find information about her father’s WWI service, Blais contacted Collins’ office for help.

The Labbay family knew nothing about her efforts until the Pentagon approved the Purple Heart request.

“She surprised all of us,” Kathy Dostie said. “I’m not sure why we never looked into it before.”

Collins understands what these medals mean to the families and their significance. Her father received two Purple Hearts for wounds sustained during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.

“These ceremonies are personally very meaningful to me because of my father,” Collins said. “It’s one of the most satisfying parts of my responsibility. It means so much to the family. It’s so heartwarming.”


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