Thursday, February 28, 2013

TFH 2/28: SFC Matthew Leonard, USA

Matthew Leonard was born in Eutaw, Alabama on November 26, 1929. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1949 and served in combat during the Korean War. Leonard served both his civilian family - a wive and five children - and his military family for his entire adult life.

Leonard had reached the rank of Sergeant First Class by February of 1967 and was then serving during war again in Vietnam with the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment (the "Iron Rangers"). On February 28, 1967, SFC Leonard was a platoon sergeant in 1-16's Company B when an enemy attack took out many of the unit's leaders. He swept into action and rallied the defense until he was himself cut down by the enemy. For his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity...above and beyond the call of duty", Leonard was posthumously decorated with our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War (A-L):


Rank and organization: platoon Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. place and date: Near Suoi Da, Republic of Vietnam, 28 February 1967. Entered service at: Birmingham, Ala. Born: 26 November 1929, Eutaw, Ala. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. His platoon was suddenly attacked by a large enemy force employing small arms, automatic weapons, and hand grenades. Although the platoon leader and several other key leaders were among the first wounded, P/Sgt. Leonard quickly rallied his men to throw back the initial enemy assaults. During the short pause that followed, he organized a defensive perimeter, redistributed ammunition, and inspired his comrades through his forceful leadership and words of encouragement. Noticing a wounded companion outside the perimeter, he dragged the man to safety but was struck by a sniper's bullet which shattered his left hand. Refusing medical attention and continuously exposing himself to the increasing fire as the enemy again assaulted the perimeter, P/Sgt. Leonard moved from position to position to direct the fire of his men against the well camouflaged foe. Under the cover of the main attack, the enemy moved a machine gun into a location where it could sweep the entire perimeter. This threat was magnified when the platoon machine gun in this area malfunctioned. P/Sgt. Leonard quickly crawled to the gun position and was helping to clear the malfunction when the gunner and other men in the vicinity were wounded by fire from the enemy machine gun. P/Sgt. Leonard rose to his feet, charged the enemy gun and destroyed the hostile crew despite being hit several times by enemy fire. He moved to a tree, propped himself against it, and continued to engage the enemy until he succumbed to his many wounds. His fighting spirit, heroic leadership, and valiant acts inspired the remaining members of his platoon to hold back the enemy until assistance arrived. P/Sgt. Leonard's profound courage and devotion to his men are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and his gallant actions reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.

SFC Leonard today rests in peace at the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery in Alabama. His name appears on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Panel 15E, Line 119 in Washington, DC. His widow Lois attended a ceremony in Leonard's birthplace of Eutaw, Alabama on Memorial Day, 2011 for the dedication of a monument to her husband.

1st Battalion, 16th Infantry continues to defend our liberty as a component of the 1st Infantry Division. This combined-arms (mixed mechanized infantry and armor) battalion is assigned to the division's 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley, Kansas.

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