WELLSBURG – A retired army officer recently visited the American defenders of Bataan and the Corregidor Museum and Education Center after donating two sketches he brought back from Vietnam.
Jim Brockman, the museum’s executive director, unveiled an exhibit incorporating a photo of retired Lt. Col. James R. Leonard, sketches of a small fleet of Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters, commonly known as Hueys, and another of a helicopter climbing in front of a radar unit.
Leonard said they were drawn by a crew chief he served with in Vietnam, where he was section chief of aviation from 1972 to 1973.
The Weirton native’s 21-year military career included stints as an aviation platoon leader in Germany, an aviation officer in Korea from 1985 to 1987, and an airspace management officer in Saudi Arabia as well as a commander. aerodrome and Squadron Leader at Fort Lewis, Washington, and Inspector General at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
While in Vietnam, he flew missions just south of the demilitarized zone, but declined to talk much about the dangers he encountered.
When asked if he had ever cared about his safety, Leonard replied: “I think everyone has this fear behind their backs. You have to control it. Every soldier does.
A graduate of Weir High School in 1966, Leonard attended Marshall University, where he joined the ROTC.
Leonard said that, like many of those who enlisted at the time, he was certain he would be deployed to Vietnam.
When asked what prompted him to enlist in the military, he replied: “When the light bulb goes out in your head you owe this country something.”
Leonard added that his grandparents, who raised him, supported his decision.
Leonard received an MBA from Webster University in 1979 and continued his military career with 27 years in the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Department in Georgia, retiring as a captain.
He taught military science at the University of Montana and criminal justice and security at the Augusta campus of the University of Pheonix, Georgia.
Much of this information is on the small screen with his photo on it.
Leonard said he preferred to see its inclusion in the museum’s Vietnam War collection as a tribute to all who served in the conflict.
He was asked if there was any truth in the stories of Vietnamese veterans receiving receptions ranging from cold to villainous.
“When you came back from Vietnam, you were treated badly. I think all the soldiers have been there ”, said Leonard, who admitted it could vary somewhat depending on a soldier’s location.
“We all joked that we only had our parade after Dessert Storm” he said, noting that many Americans in recent years have become sympathetic to the older generation of veterans.
But Leonardo added, “I want this to affect all soldiers. There are so many soldiers who have come back who have mental problems that we did not support 100 percent.
He said the military provided him with an interesting career and the opportunity to see many places.
” I have travelled a lot. I have been very lucky. And I had to do different jobs ”, said Leonard, who noted that his service had taken him to Europe, Montana, Alabama and North Carolina.
When the display was first unveiled, he said, “What a treat, that’s all I can say. Usually I’m not at a loss for words but honestly I can tell I’m at a loss for words.
“Now I’m not going to go away. I will be there forever ”, added Leonardo.
Located in the Brooke County Public Library, the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum holds one of the largest collections of artifacts in the country related to the experiences of veterans who fought Japanese invaders in World War II, many of whom were captured and forced to march on Bataan’s death march.
In recent years, it has expanded to include objects from other eras.
During Leonard’s visit, Brockman showed him, his family and friends.