A fading photograph shows a young Hugh Goble earnestly pedaling his tricycle around a yard.
Fast forward several photos and years to a teen-age Goble posing proudly in his Army uniform.
Move onward more than 50 years to this chilly December Tuesday. A 76-year-old Goble stands in a crowded meeting room in downtown Bloomington to receive medals from heroic actions in World War II. "I was just in there trying to do my job," Goble said. "Most of all I was trying to keep from getting shot." Seven medals were presented to Goble - including one prestigious medal he didn't even know the government had awarded to him.
"Hugh Goble nearly paid the ultimate sacrifice and we can never thank him enough," said Congressman John Hostettler, R-8th District. After Goble's medals were lost years ago in a move, Hostettler decided to reassemble the awards. In doing so, the U.S. government realized that Goble also had been awarded the Bronze Star and never received it.
When he was in the midst of battle, Goble said, "I wasn't worried about honors. I was just worried about saving my skin." He also "saved the skin" of his fellow soldiers, along with capturing a man who may have changed the future of America.
In a video clip shot on a snowy day in Austria in 1945, a young Goble is shown standing in a doorway guarding another man. Part of a television documentary, the World War II footage detailed an event that had a great effect on Goble's country and the world. Goble and a unit of about 20 other soldiers had been sent to the foothills of the Alps to round up "die-hards" - German soldiers who didn't know the war was over. Along the way, they found about a half-dozen men hiding on an upper floor of a small hotel. The group turned out to be some engineers, including one of the world's foremost rocket engineers and a leading authority on space travel - Wernher von Braun.
"We had an idea who he was," Goble recalled. "He surrendered easily, just said, "You got me ... Do with me what you want to do." Fluent in English, von Braun seemed resigned to being captured by either the Americans or the Russians. And he also seemed pleased it was the former. "He said, 'Why do I want to fight? There are more important things to do than fighting and killing each other.'"
For almost a week, Goble and his group guarded von Braun and the other prisoners until arrangements could be made to remove them. "He wasn't any trouble at all. He was a very nice man." Von Braun and the engineers probably had been sent to Austria because it was considered safe. "I think there were probably Germans protecting them but they took off when we came," Goble said. The group seemed to have no weapons and had been working on an airplane conducting stress-related tests.
Von Braun was finally transferred. Goble returned to his young wife in Bloomington.
And the rest is history.
Considered the father of the American space program, von Braun directed teams that built the rockets that sent the first American into space and landed the first astronauts on the moon. Born in German in 1912, von Braun had been jailed in 1944 by Heinrich Himmler when the chief of the Nazi secret police tried to take over the German rocket program. Von Braun had refused to cooperate. Hitler freed von Braun later that year. After his capture, von Braun went on to develop the first large U.S. ballistic missile. He became a U.S. citizen in 1955 and died in 1977.
Over the years, Goble has wondered how he made it through the war when so many of his buddies didn't. Back then, Goble was 19 years old and a newlywed to his sweetheart Thelma. He was making ice cream at the old Johnson Creamery when he was drafted.
On Labor Day of 1944, Goble was shipped to France. He spent Thanksgiving in a foxhole at the front. Christmas was the same. Goble was part of the famous 44th Infantry Division that fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Of the 1,500 men in his division, only 105 came back. Goble was one of the lucky ones. But it came with a terrible cost. Goble saw his friends die and his own life on the line for months at a time. He won a Silver Star for "taking care of" three Germans who had part of his squad cornered in a railroad house.
One of the "hardest things I've ever faced," Goble recalled, was capturing a German built bunker that was raining machine gun fire on his troop. "We had an order to kill everyone that moved," Goble said. One of the first people to emerge from the bunker was a woman with a white flag on the end of her gun. While the Americans withheld their gunfire, "the woman dropped her gun down ... I don't want to carry it any further," Goble said. "We were on edge 24 hours a day."
Another time, while trying to patch up one of his buddies, Goble heard a fellow soldier ask why he was toting around such a beat-up rifle. When he looked down, Goble saw that his rifle had been bent almost into a U shape from shrapnel. His two pairs of heavy pants, long underwear and three pairs of shorts had been cut through to the last pair of shorts by shrapnel. "If it hadn't been for that, I would probably be without my right leg now," he said.
When the war ended, Goble returned home and tried to get on with his life.
"You lived on the edge of a nervous breakdown all the time over there," Goble said.
"There are things I have never told anyone, not even my wife. Things I will carry to my grave," Goble concluded. "I appreciate the fact that I did come home ... the Lord was good to me."
Original story written by reporter Jackie Sheckler entitled "War Hero Honored in Bloomington." Jackie Sheckler can be reached at 331-4369 or at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thelma Goble displays the World War II medals that were given to her husband, Hugh Goble, Tuesday at One City Center in Bloomington. The two have been married for more than 57 years. Staff photo by Jeremy Hogan
After being given medals for his service as a United States soldier in Germany during World War II, Hugh Goble tells a story about the experience. Staff photo by Jeremy Hogan
Permission to reprint granted by Jackie Sheckler
Frank Hugh Goble, Hugh A. Goble, William A. Goble, John Goble, Martin Goble, Corban Goble, John Goble (of the Southern Goble Tree)