91-year-old Leon Christensen of Clovis, CA appears on episode #361 of Hometown Heroes, debuting April 4, 2015. He grew up on a farm in Easton, CA, with three brothers and two sisters, waking up early to milk the cow. His father’s love for music rubbed off on Leon, who dreamed of becoming a virtuoso violinist.
Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out how why his father suggested the Navy for Leon, and how the teenager’s violin came in handy when he auditioned to become a Navy trumpeter. You’ll also hear him reflect fondly on the year he spent stationed at Balboa, Panama, before being assigned to the battleship USS Texas (BB-35). On May 19, 1945, the Texas received a special visitor. Listen to the program to hear Leon’s memories of the speech General Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered aboard his ship, and the impression it made on Leon. “I remember one thing he said,” Leon recalls. “If our ship was hit, and we would not be able to maneuver it anymore, we were going to beach it, and that scared the pants off of me.”
To read a transcript of Eisenhower’s speech aboard the Texas, CLICK HERE. Within a couple weeks, the Texas was headed across the English Channel on D-Day.
“You can’t believe the armada of ships that was out there,” Leon says of the sight he woke up to on June 6, 1944 off of Normandy’s Omaha Beach. “You could almost feel like you could step from one ship to another.” Starting at 5:50 AM, the Texas fired away at German guns atop Pointe du Hoc for 34 minutes straight. You’ll hear Leon’s memories of “The Longest Day,” as well as what he experienced during the Battle of Cherbourg on June 25, 1944. After bombarding enemy positions, the Texas inched closer to shore. “All of a sudden the Germans came to life,” Leon remembers. The Texas suffered a hit to the conning tower, causing significant damage and claiming the life of a similarly-named but not related sailor whom Leon had gotten to know. You’ll hear Leon reflect on the death of Christen Christensen, and what he did in the wake of the battle.
You’ll also hear about that shell that would have claimed Leon’s life if it had not been a dud. That unexploded shell can be found today aboard the ship at the Battleship Texas State Historic Park. Leon had been trained to assist doctors and corpsman in providing medical attention, and it was in that role that he ended up in a famous photograph published in the Saturday Evening Post. Leon doesn’t know what happened to the ranger he was carrying on that stretcher, but he thought about him and others when he visited the National World War II Memorial with Central Valley Honor Flight. “You just can’t help but think about all the men that sacrificed their lives,” Leon says. “And here I am alright.”
Leon’s guardian for his Honor Flight experience was his grandson, Daniel Deveau. This edition of Hometown Heroes also features comments from Deveau, as well as Leon’s son, Dan Christensen. You’ll also hear Leon’s recollections of his time on the Texas at Iwo Jima, and even a couple brief moments of Leon playing one of the violin’s he made himself. Perhaps the most amazing thing you’ll hear is Leon’s memory of coming home on leave after his Normandy experiences. The first thing his mother asked him was what he had been doing on the morning of June 25th. When he told her that had been the bombardment of Cherbourg and the near miss with that unexploded shell, she told him she had been stirred by a strange feeling that she needed to pray for him right at the moment. “I always like to think that God intervened through my mother’s prayer,” you’ll hear Leon say with emotion in his voice.
You’ll hear the unique post-war story of how Leon and his late wife, Roxie, got together, something their four children and six grandchildren are very thankful for. If Leon’s voice sounds familiar to Fresno-area listeners, perhaps it stems from his time as General Manager of Clawson Honda, where TV commercials featured his signature tag line, “You’ll be impressed.” We are impressed, sir, and we’re thankful for your service to our country.