First Sergeant Leonard A. Funk, Jr., USA (January 29, 1945)

Leonard Alfred Funk, Jr. was born on August 27, 1916 in Braddock, Pennsylvania. He was living in nearby Wilkinsburg, PA when he was drafted for service in the United States Army at age 24 on June 7, 1941, prior to the United States’ entry into World War II. Funk volunteered for service in the fledgling airborne force, and earned his paratrooper’s wings.

Funk jumped into combat as a member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day and during Operation Market Garden. During the first, he was awarded the Silver Star. During the second, the Distinguished Service Cross.

On January 29, 1945, then-First Sergeant Funk led a significant portion of C-1-508 in the attack when the company executive officer became a casualty. When his rag-tag force was nearly captured by the Nazi German enemy, he turned the situation about on their potential captors and saved the day, earning the Medal of Honor in the process.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):

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)
Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

FUNK, LEONARD A., JR.

Rank and organization: First Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company C, 508th Parachute Infantry, 82d Airborne Division. Place and date: Holzheim, Belgium, 29 January 1945. Entered service at: Wilkinsburg, Pa. G.O. No.: 75, 5 September 1945

Citation: He distinguished himself by gallant, intrepid actions against the enemy. After advancing 15 miles in a driving snowstorm, the American force prepared to attack through waist-deep drifts. The company executive officer became a casualty, and 1st Sgt. Funk immediately assumed his duties, forming headquarters soldiers into a combat unit for an assault in the face of direct artillery shelling and harassing fire from the right flank. Under his skillful and courageous leadership, this miscellaneous group and the 3d Platoon attacked 15 houses, cleared them, and took 30 prisoners without suffering a casualty. The fierce drive of Company C quickly overran Holzheim, netting some 80 prisoners, who were placed under a 4-man guard, all that could be spared, while the rest of the understrength unit went about mopping up isolated points of resistance. An enemy patrol, by means of a ruse, succeeded in capturing the guards and freeing the prisoners, and had begun preparations to attack Company C from the rear when 1st Sgt. Funk walked around the building and into their midst. He was ordered to surrender by a German officer who pushed a machine pistol into his stomach. Although overwhelmingly outnumbered and facing almost certain death, 1st Sgt. Funk, pretending to comply with the order, began slowly to unsling his submachine gun from his shoulder and then, with lightning motion, brought the muzzle into line and riddled the German officer. He turned upon the other Germans, firing and shouting to the other Americans to seize the enemy’s weapons. In the ensuing fight 21 Germans were killed, many wounded, and the remainder captured. 1st Sgt. Funk’s bold action and heroic disregard for his own safety were directly responsible for the recapture of a vastly superior enemy force, which, if allowed to remain free, could have taken the widespread units of Company C by surprise and endangered the entire attack plan.

From Military Times’ Hall of Valor, here are First Sergeant Funk’s earlier citations for the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star.

DSC-200pxThe President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to First Sergeant Leonard Alfred Funk, Jr. (ASN: 33070198), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company C, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82d Airborne Division, in action against enemy forces on 18 September 1944, near Voxhill, Holland. With great courage, intrepidity, and on his own initiative, Sergeant Funk lead a three man patrol against a German flak battery of three 20-mm. guns which were firing on American gliders then circling to land. He drove off all enemy security around the guns and led an assault which killed approximately twenty members of the crews and inflicted other causalities. The flak guns were silenced before effective fire could be placed upon the aircraft, due to the courageous and heroic actions of Sergeant Funk. The courageous action of Sergeant Funk contributed, in large part to the prompt seizure of his company objective and assistance in driving the enemy from the landing zone. His initiative, outstanding bravery, and strong personal leadership, despite overwhelming enemy superiority in both numbers and firepower, enabled him to render a distinguished served in the destruction of enemy resistance. First Sergeant Funk’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 82d Airborne Division, and the United States Army.

SilverStar-200pxThe President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to First Sergeant Leonard Alfred Funk, Jr. (ASN: 33070198), United States Army, for gallantry in action from 6 to 17 June 1944, in Normandy, France. First Sergeant Funk, Company C, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82d Airborne Division, after the Normandy jump, though suffering from a badly sprained ankle, gathered a group of eighteen men and set a route of march which he believed would lead the group to friendly lines. With unerring accuracy he led this group across twenty miles of enemy infested territory. During the major portion of the journey he acted as lead scout, refusing to jeopardize the safety of his men after three scouts had been lost. The group traveled by night and after numerous encounters with enemy groups, First Sergeant Funk led them through the MLR to the security of our forces. First Sergeant Funk’s courage and determination was responsible for the group’s safe return, and reflects great credit upon himself.

Funk returned to civilian life after the war and worked for the Veterans’ Administration until his retirement in 1972. He passed away at age 76 on November 20, 1992 and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

1st Battalion, 508th Infantry is today part of the 3rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

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