A century later, Paul Dornblaser remains a renowned name in the annals of the University of Montana and Missoula, a football standout who became a deputy county attorney after his college days ended.
When the United States went to war against Germany in 1917, Dornblaser dropped everything to enlist. No one doubted he could have been an officer, but he was content to join the Marines as a private.
Dornblaser was shipped to France in the spring of 1918.
“He was just in time for the big American push in the Meuse-Argonne,” said Tate Jones, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History, who’ll give a short presentation on Dornblaser at the Fort Missoula museum Saturday at 11 a.m.
The American push and the war ended on Nov. 11, but Dornblaser wasn’t around to celebrate the first Armistice Day.
On Oct. 8, 1918, near the Argonne forest in France, German machine gunners caught the 185-pound block of granite in their sights. Bullets riddled Dornblaser's hips and legs. He died from his wounds a day or two later.
Dornblaser was buried overseas in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery. In 1920, UM’s new football field at the base of Mount Sentinel was named in his honor. When another “temporary” stadium was built on South Higgins in the 1960s, it too was called Dornblaser Field.
To understand the depth of the love affair Missoula had for Paul Dornblaser 100 years ago, consider his first public act here in 1910.
He was 23, fresh from ranchwork near Augusta, and new to the University of Montana campus. He had captained the North Division high school football team in Chicago that traveled to Seattle in 1906 to play for the national championship.
Now, in November, he was telegraphed the offer of an all-expenses-paid trip back home to Chicago for Thanksgiving to lead his old squad in a game “intended to test the relative superiority of two championship high school teams of a few years ago,” the Daily Missoulian editor reported.
Dornblaser turned down the offer, “because on Thanksgiving day the University of Montana is to meet the team of the state agricultural college.”
“He did not hesitate a moment between desire and duty, school loyalty and pleasure, the prompting of college spirit and what he wished to do,” the editorial said.
Days later the rookie led the Grizzlies, a few years before they were called that, to a 10-0 shutout of the Aggies of Montana State College, a dozen years before they became the Bobcats.
“He was here, there and everywhere, always smiling but always getting his man with a bang,” the paper reported after the 16th Brawl of the Wild.
Dornblaser played and starred at defensive tackle for three more seasons with the Griz, and his stellar reputation didn’t diminish. He became a faithful member of the Rev. John Maclean’s First Presbyterian Church, perhaps sitting next to a younger Paul and his brother Norman. Six decades later, the Rev. Maclean and his sons were the central figures in Norman Maclean’s classic novella, “A River Runs Through It.”
In his master’s thesis on Dornblaser, Michael Webster related the contents of a letter John Maclean wrote to Dornblaser’s mother in 1912.
“I know your son Paul very well, and like everybody else who knows him here I respect him highly. ... He is ‘straight goods.,” Maclean wrote.
The reverend had tried to talk Dornblaser into teaching Sunday school or leading a Boy Scout troop at the time, but Dornblaser deferred, saying he couldn’t do justice to either with his studies and football.
“He has the work of two ordinary men on his shoulders,” wrote Maclean. “Assuring you that Paul has the highest respect of everyone who knows him.”
Dornblaser concluded his football career in 1913, starring in another shutout of the Bobcats in Missoula, this one by a 20-0 score.
They were calling him the “Baron” by then.
“He has plastered himself with a lot of glory ... but he has never played better football than he did for an hour yesterday,” the Daily Missoulian gushed.
Paul Dornblaser never got the chance to be a veteran. But to Jones, whose military history programs are usually reserved for Sunday afternoons, Saturday at 11 a.m. is a fitting time to tell the story.
"The World War I centennial is kind of a chance to rediscover personages who are held in rather high esteem in their time but over the years have kind of slipped into antiquity," he said. "Dornblaser is an example of this surge of men who volunteered from Montana, which I've been told had per capita the most soldiers of any state in World War I."
Montana was "very much a young man's state," Jones said.
"The physical labor of mines, logging, ranching and farming required a concentration of young men, and most proved to be very patriotic."
The American Legion Post 101’s traditional Veterans Day ceremony at 10:15 has been moved from the county courthouse lawn to the pavilion at Fort Missoula Regional Park, a stone’s throw from the military museum. If they overlap, Jones is ready to repeat his 30-minute program at noon.
That should still leave time to make it across town to the present-day Grizzlies’ last home football game at 1 p.m. against Northern Colorado.