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.
John Roderick Towle was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 19, 1924. Towle, an “unskilled machine shop” employee with just a grade school education, was drafted into the United States Army on March 11, 1943 at age 18. After his initial training, he volunteered for airborne duty. After earning his jump wings, Towle was sent overseas to join the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
One of the missions of the 82nd Airborne Division – the “All-Americans” – in the Battle of Normandy was securing crossings over the Merderet River on the Cotentin Peninsula. The Merderet had to be secured to both protect the flank for the beachhead at Utah Beach, plus open up the path to Cherbourg at the peninsula’s north tip. Cherbourg was a key target because its port was vital for keeping the growing Allied army in Normandy supplied.
On June 9, 1944 along the Merderet, two 82nd Airborne soldiers met the challenge of separate Nazi counter attacks single handedly and placed their names among our nation’s greatest heroes.