Private First Class William F. Leonard, USA (November 7, 1944)

William F. Leonard was born on August 9, 1913 in Lockport, New York. It appears that he was living in Maine when he was drafted for war service in the United States Army on November 17, 1942. By November 7, 1944, Leonard was a Private First Class in Company C, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment and was fighting in southern France as part of the 3rd Infantry Division.

On that day just over seventy years ago, Leonard led his shattered platoon – reduced to just eight soldiers – in an attack on a Nazi German-occupied hilltop, personally taking out two snipers and two machine gun positions.

Leonard, a Jew, fell victim to discrimination and was awarded just the Distinguished Service Cross at the time for his valor. It took nearly seventy years for his courage to be properly recognized with the Medal of Honor, and his daughter Patricia accepted the award on his behalf from President Barack Obama at the White House on March 18, 2014.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Image: US Army Center for Military History

*LEONARD, WILLIAM F.

Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company C, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division. Place and date: November 7, 1944, St. Die, France. Entered service at: Lockport, NY

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Private First Class William F. Leonard distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Squad Leader in Company C, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy near St. Die, France on November 7, 1944. Private First Class Leonard’s platoon was reduced to eight men as a result of blistering artillery, mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire. Private First Class Leonard led the survivors in an assault over a hill covered by trees and shrubs which the enemy continuously swept with automatic weapons fire. Ignoring bullets which pierced his pack, Private First Class Leonard killed two snipers at ranges of fifty and seventy-five yards and engaged and destroyed a machinegun nest with grenades, killing its two-man crew. Though momentarily stunned by an exploding bazooka shell, Private First Class Leonard relentlessly advanced, ultimately knocking out a second machinegun nest and capturing the roadblock objective. Private First Class Leonard’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

Leonard survived the war, and as his citation indicates, was promoted to Staff Sergeant before leaving the Army. He passed away at home in Lockport on August 4, 1985, just days before his 72nd birthday. He today rests in peace in the Cold Springs Cemetery in his home town.

1st Battalion, 30th Infantry was most recently active as a component of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. That unit is presently scheduled to be inactivated early next year.

 

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