LISTEN to Jack Leonard on Hometown Heroes
94-year-old Jack Leonard of Clovis, CA appears on episode #342 of Hometown Heroes, debuting November 22, 2014. The son of Polish immigrants, Leonard grew up in Casper, Wyoming, with three brothers and one sister. His two younger brothers were Navy veterans of World War II, while Jack and his older brother, Ray, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
You’ll hear Jack remember why he enlisted in the military before the U.S. had entered WWII, how he heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while stationed at Portland Army Air Base in Oregon, and why he had to stay awake and on duty for 72 hours straight. He would continue his communications training at Moffett Field in California before being sent to Officer Candidate School at Fort Monmouth, NJ. Jack was expected to stay at Fort Monmouth, headquarters of the Signal Corps, to train future candidates, but a last minute change in his orders sent him instead to Fresno, CA and Camp Pinedale. Jack’s time at Camp Pinedale is documented in the book, Into the Night, which was discussed by author George Gruner on episode #260 of Hometown Heroes.
Not only did Jack prefer central California’s sunny weather to the cold climates he’d experienced in Wyoming and New Jersey, he greatly enjoyed the scenery, especially when the queen of the latest war bond drive came to his office. “Here I am a smart aleck Second Lieutenant, hat on the back of my head, dark glasses on, my feet on the desk,” Leonard remembers. “She comes through the door, and to myself I said, ‘She’s mine.’ My hat and glasses came off and my feet hit the floor.” Ten days later, Leonard “worked up the nerve” to ask Maxine House for a date, and at the conclusion of that first date, he asked her to marry him. “I was scared to death,” you’ll hear Maxine recall about the moment her husband now of 70 years lodged that quick proposal. A year later they were married, making Jack eternally grateful that those orders had been changed. “God found her for me and God placed me here at that time,” Jack says. “That’s the only thing you can attribute it to, because she was mine the minute I saw her.”
The Leonards were married for all of six weeks before Jack had to ship out to the Pacific, where he would put to use the cryptanalysis skills he had developed at the Army Intelligence School in Arlington, VA.
Jack had 20 men under his command as he served with the 7th Mobile Radio Squadron on the islands of Palawan and Leyte in the Philippines. Eleven of them were Nisei, born in America of Japanese ancestry, and they would work with Jack to intercept Japanese radio signals and try to decode them. This work became much easier after a fortunate find Jack made on a trek through the jungle with a sergeant he remembers as a “Tennessee squirrel hunter” who was in search of jungle wildlife. “Here was a Japanese fire, where they’d burned their information. I looked down and there was a code book that didn’t burn,” Jack recalls. He delivered the book to his superiors in Manila, and in doing so greatly accelerated future cryptanalysis in the Pacific.
Among the other stories you’ll hear Jack share on Hometown Heroes are the nightly bombings experienced during his time on the island of Morotai, and the incident when a lone Japanese soldier stumbled upon their radio outpost and wounded one of the Nisei cryptographers under Jack’s command. The man needed a blood transfusion, and all his fellow Nisei soldiers volunteered to provide their blood, but Jack pulled rank. Listen to the program to hear why he gave his own blood, how he sums that up today, and what happened nearly 50 years later that changed his perspective on the Japanese.
You’ll also hear Jack remember where he was when he learned the Japanese had surrendered, and how a plane he was flying in the next day was in danger of being shot down by celebratory American artillery fire. Jack was thrilled to come back home and see Maxine again, but he’d also received devastating news from his sister-in-law. His older brother Raymond, a fighter pilot in Europe, had been killed in action over Italy just days before Germany’s surrender.
“My brother and I were very close,” Jack remembers. “We were only a year apart in school, and he was my idol. I wanted to do everything he did. It was quite devastating to me at the time.” He knew what Ray was doing was dangerous, but still struggled to come to grips with his brother’s fate. “Why did it have to happen to him? Why did God pick him? But God picked a lot of people. I felt sorry for myself that I lost my brother.” Ray was on Jack’s mind when he visited the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. with Central Valley Honor Flight. He knew Ray was one of the more than 400,000 Americans represented by the memorial’s wall of gold stars honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Jack’s son, Scott, accompanied him on that journey to our nation’s capital, where they also toured the Smithsonian Air & Space museum and saw a German ME-262 fighter jet like the one Ray had shot down in the waning days of World War II.
Scott recently interviewed Jack about his WWII experiences at Fresno Christian School’s annual Veterans Day chapel. Click HERE for coverage of that presentation from the thefeather.com. Scott Leonard, President/CEO of Fresno-based Guarantee Real Estate, is one of four sons who would have never been born if Jack had suffered a fate like Ray’s in World War II. Jack and Maxine count nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren in that category as well. Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear more about Jack’s Honor Flight experience, including some of the spontaneous moments that held so much personal significance for him, he was convinced they couldn’t just be coincidence. “That flight made me realize that the people of the United States are a whole group of great, great, great people,” Jack says. It takes one to know one. If you run into Jack and his inimitable smile, please thank him for serving our country.