Niagara Gazette — Leonard was born in the north end of Lockport — the “Irish section” — in 1913, Kennedy said. He loved playing baseball and worked as a butcher before being drafted into the Army during World War II. Leonard rose through the ranks, from private to staff sergeant by the time he was discharged, and saw time in Italy and France. Leonard served in Company C, 30th Infantry in the Third Infantry Division. Although a private at the time, his actions near St. Die, France on the morning of Nov. 7, 1944, are the reason he is receiving the Medal of Honor.
With his platoon being decimated by German artillery, machine guns, mortars and rifle fire, Leonard led the eight remaining men in the platoon over a hill covered in trees and shrubs while automatic gunfire raked the area. Killing two snipers at ranges of 50 and 75 yards, Leonard advanced while bullets pierced the pack he was wearing. He killed a two-man machine gun crew with rifle grenades before being stunned by a bazooka shell. Despite the set-back, he continued to advance, knocking out another machine gun post and securing the platoon’s objective, a roadblock.
”His good buddy was killed next to him,” McQueen said. “I could just see him saying, ‘You’re not going to get away with this.’ “
After the war, Leonard returned to Lockport and worked again as a butcher before retiring from Harrison Radiator. He never drove a car, and walked everywhere, despite pain and a slight limp due to shrapnel he took in his ankles during the war, Kennedy said. He loved the Yankees, she said, and passed away at 71, five days before his birthday.
”He dropped off his chair listening to the Yankees game in the backyard,” she said. “He was doing what he loved.”
Leonard never talked about the war, Kennedy said, unless he was asked about it. He downplayed his heroics in France, and never sought attention for them.
”He said he was just doing his job,” she said.Contact reporter Michael Canfield at 439-9222, ext. 6246 or follow him on Twitter @MikeCanfield36.