Mario LoBue has seen a lot of things in his 96 years of life. A retired staff sergeant, LoBue served in the United States Army Air Forces/Air Corps during World War II from 1943 to 1945. Stationed in Framingham, England, he was a radio operator/gunner on a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress named the Virgin Sturgeon, and went on missions to Germany.
During one of these missions, his plane clipped the wing of another B-17 and the crew had no choice but to bail out. Though they parachuted safely onto a German farmer's field, they were taken to Barth, Germany to a prison camp for allied airmen. LoBue was prisoner of war from February 1944 to May 1945 before he was liberated by the Russian Army.
He's been through more than words can express. But after all these years, Sunday night created a moment he'll never forget.
Born in Colorado but residing in the LA area since he two years old, LoBue was attending his first Ducks game thanks to his son, Larry, who nominated him for the Ducks Military Recognition presented by Pacific Premier Bank. LoBue was recognized during the second TV timeout of the second period to a standing and boisterous ovation from the 16,000-plus in attendance inside Honda Center as PA announcer Phil Hulett recited his story and military honors. Wearing an orange Ducks hat, LoBue admitted prior to the game that he had no idea this was in the works.
"It was a surprise to me," he says with a smile. "I didn't know I was being honored!"
By his side were Larry, daughters Kathy and Theresa, son-in-law Alex and granddaughter Jennifer.
Video: Military Recognition for Staff Sergeant Mario LoBue
Larry is an usher at Honda Center, and was familiar with the in-game recognition. "I was talking to one of my associates here, and he mentioned something about a World War II veteran being honored at center ice," he says. "That's when I talked to my boss, [Honda Center Event Services Manager] Matt Warwick, and he got the ball rolling for me. He got me in touch with [Ducks Entertainment & Production Assistant Manager] Sarah Montecinos.
"He was a German POW for 15 months," Larry says. "Being a World War II veteran is one thing, but a POW as well, they're very few and far between. I just wanted to show him how much everybody appreciated what he went through."
"Getting the opportunity to honor a World War II veteran is becoming more and more rare these days," says Montecinos. "We felt so privileged to be able to honor an American hero like Mario in our building in front of all our fans."
Even at 96, LoBue is as sharp as a tack. He remembers the feeling of freedom. "The only memory I have right now, that I can think of, was having the war end and being able to come home," LoBue says. "I was a prisoner of war. There was nothing like [coming home]. Unbelievable that it was happening."
LoBue is a proud recipient of the Prisoner of War Medal (for honorable service while a prisoner of war), Good Conduct Medal (for exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity in active Federal Military service) and the Air Medal (for meritorious service while in aerial flight).
LoBue's first Ducks game was an entertaining one for certain. With a nod to the days of old, Ducks forward Nicolas Deslauriers and Predators forward Austin Watson dropped the gloves right off the opening faceoff. The Ducks peppered goaltender Juuse Saros with 21 shots in the first period - the most shots in a single period all season.
And just three minutes after he was recognized with a roaring ovation from the crowd midway through the second period, the Ducks erased a one-goal deficit with two goals in a little over two minutes. Then, Adam Henrique capped off the flurry with his second goal of the game at the 17:22 mark of the middle frame.
Despite allowing the Predators to claw their way back in the third period, the Ducks capped off the night with a 5-4 shootout victory with Ryan Getzlaf scoring the game-deciding goal in the fifth round.
Prior to the game, LoBue admitted he was never a big sports fan. The Ducks might've changed that.
"It's my first Ducks game, but we'll be back again," he says with a big smile. "You can't help but have a good time around good people."
If you or anyone close to you has served, you can nominate them to be recognized at a Ducks home game by visiting AnaheimDucks.com/MilitaryRecognition.