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War turns 'typical' guy into a hero in the sky

Published June 6, 2004

On Memorial Day weekend last week, and again as we approached today's 60th anniversary of the D-day invasion, television has shown a lot of World War II movies.

All those movie heroes: George C. Scott, John Wayne, even Tom Hanks.

All those imposing, brave, handsome leading men facing bombs and bullets with aplomb.

It's hard for me to relate to those guys. I'm not tall or handsome or dashing. I'm not very brave.

But Circuit Judge Linda Babb introduced me to the memory of her late uncle, Lt. Paul A. Hobe of Wilkinsburg, Pa. He was a guy with a college degree in engineering and an interest in airplanes in 1941. He tried to join the Navy Air Corps. A heart murmur kept him out.

So Hobe signed on with the Army and ended up in World War II.

In training, he sent letters home. From Avon Park, he wrote, "It rains every day here. We have a grapefruit tree in the yard, and so many grapefruit that about a crate a week go to rot."

From Louisiana, to his sister Audrey, he wrote: "The war won't change things very much for me, so don't worry about it. I would like to be home on Xmas, but there isn't much chance."

His parents, Carl and Anna, flew to California to see him before he was deployed. They brought along his Pennsylvania sweetheart. He surprised all three by introducing them to his new wife, Yvonne.

That's the kind of thing guys do sometimes; they forget to mention they got married.

"He was typical. Going to school, he went to all the games at the University of Pittsburgh," his younger brother, Fred, said in a call from his North Florida home. "He rode a motorcycle and had a girlfriend and all the things boys do. He was a great boxer."

He learned to fly a small plane in college. Fred Hobe remembered his big brother flying over their house, doing loops and tricks.

Now 83 and living in Seminole, Zee Powell, Paul Hobe's younger sister, remembered how people loved her brother.

"He could walk into a room, and the atmosphere changed," she said.

He did the nutty things guys do, she remembered. He got his picture in the newspaper by donning a glass bell over his head, rigging an air hose to it, and having a friend blow air to him as he walked the length of a nearby lake underwater.

And then Paul Hobe, a guy from Wilkinsburg, was a pilot in a war.

He flew 69 missions over Europe. He dodged flak and incoming fighters. He flew on night missions over Germany.

He wrote home, his brother said.

"He told me that war wasn't fun. It wasn't a nice place to be, and we were very lucky that we didn't have to go through what England was going through," said Fred Hobe, now 72. "We were very fortunate to not have to fight the war on American soil. He said London was totally destroyed; people were living in tunnels."

And this average guy, Lt. Paul A. Hobe from Wilkinsburg, kept a logbook with personal notes in the back. Judge Babb has it on display in her living room.

On March 3, 1944, Lt. Hobe wrote: "Deep penetration into France . . . I never saw so many planes . . . Saylor dropped my camera and broke."

March 25: "I was flying No. 6 - No 4, Lt. Roland, Lt. Ryan-pilot, were hit, direct hit, exploded inside plane. It blew up right in my face, a mass of wreckage. Roland, a roommate and my best friend here. No one could have survived the explosion."

May 10: "I never was so scared in my life. Didn't expect to get back."

June 2: "Heavy guns hit us numerous times. We released bombs o.k. - Leaving coast we were hit badly at Berk-Su-Mer, knocked out right engine, made West Malling and landed, about 30 holes, oil cooler, oil tank. Leading edge of rt. wing, co-pilot rt. wall, rt. wing gas tank punctured, other holes in fuselage. No one hurt. Roommate, Red Crassler killed. My bombardier Saylor killed, Brennen also, in other ships."

Matter of fact: Shot at, lost friends.

Four days later, on June 6, 1944, he was back piloting his B-26 Marauder over Normandy.

"6-6: Invasion of Europe. 1st troops landed 6:30 a.m., weather poor. Saw gliders and paratroopers by the thousands. It looks to be successful."

At the end he added: "A great show."

Lt. Paul A. Hobe made it home. He was never wounded. He was sent to Wright Airfield, near Dayton, Ohio as a test pilot.

One day, his parents got a letter from Lt. General Barney M. Giles.

"With deep regret I have learned of the death of your son, First Lieutenant Paul Albert Hobe, which occurred on January 26, 1945 . . . I offer my heartfelt sympathy to you and other members of the family and hope you will derive solace from the memory of your son's fine service for his country."

It was a crash. In Ohio.

Hobe was 26 when he died. His wife, Yvonne, went back to live with her family in Louisiana. Hobe's family lost touch with her.

It's hard to relate to those movie heroes they show on television.

Then you think of men and women like Paul A. Hobe, a guy from Wilkinsburg who left a regular life to do amazing things on the coast of France, 60 years ago.

[Last modified June 5, 2004, 23:51:22]

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