Western NY vet among 24 to receive Medal of Honor

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (AP) — A western New York man is among 24 war veterans scheduled to receive the Medal of Honor on Tuesday following a congressionally mandated review to ensure potential recipients were not bypassed because of prejudice.

Relatives of the late Staff Sgt. William F. Leonard of Lockport plan to accept the award from President Barack Obama during a ceremony in Washington.

RELATED | News 4 spoke to the family of Staff Sgt. Leonard last month. See that story here

Leonard’s records were among those looked at after Congress ordered a review of records of Jewish and Hispanic recipients of the Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest military award, for possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor. During the review, records of several soldiers of neither Jewish nor Hispanic descent also were found to display criteria worthy of the honor and will be included in the ceremony, the White House said.

Leonard, whose heritage was not specified by the Army, is being recognized for his actions while under German fire near St. Die, France, on Nov. 7, 1944.

“Leonard’s platoon was reduced to eight men by blistering artillery, mortar, machine-gun and rifle power,” according to an Army account that said then-Pfc. Leonard was a squad leader with Company C, 30th Infantry.

“Leonard led the survivors in an assault over a tree- and shrub-covered hill continuously swept by automatic fire,” the Army said. “Killing two snipers at ranges of 50 and 75 yards, he disregarded bullets that pierced his back to engage and destroy a machine gun with rifle grenades, killing its two-man crew.”

Leonard then knocked out a second machine gun before capturing the roadblock objective, the account said.

Leonard, who left the Army with the rank of staff sergeant, went on to work in the automotive industry and as a butcher before working for the radiator company from which he would retire. He died in 1985.

“He passed away five days before his 72nd birthday,” the Army said, “as he sat in the backyard listening to a New York Yankees game on the radio.”

Phone messages left for two of his daughters were not immediately returned Monday.

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