Recipient of Army Commendation Medal
I entered the US Army Air Force Glider Program in June, 1942, at Spence Field Georgia, as a staff sergeant. I underwent pre-glider flight training at Spencer, Iowa, where I flew powered liaison aircraft. Basic glider training took place at Vinita, Oklahoma, while advanced training was conducted in the 15-place Waco CG-4A troop/cargo glider at Dalhart, Texas. Even though I was a member of Dalhart Class 43-4 I actually graduated at Lubbock on 27 February 1943 because Dalhart was converted to B-17 bomber pilot training. I received my sterling silver “G” wings and was promoted to flight officer, a wartime rank equivalent to a junior grade warrant officer, but with the pay of a second lieutenant. I was involved in an aircraft accident at Bowman Field, Kentucky, and spent eleven months in three different military hospitals. I was restored to flight status in August 1944 and was sent to Lauinburg-Maxton, NC, for a second dose of tactical training, graduating on 15 February 1945. I was selected to be an instructor training power pilots to fly CG-4A gliders at Sedalia AB, Missouri, and Blytheville AB, Arkansas, until WWII ended.
From December 1945 to August 1946 I flew copilot on Boeing B-17G bombers in the 305th Bomb Group at Lechfeld Air Base in Germany, whose mission was strip mapping Germany and North Africa [423rd Bomb Squadron which became part of the occupation forces in late 1945 and participated in Project Casey Jones, the photographic mapping of portions of Europe and North Africa]. I was promoted to second Lieutenant on 11 April 1946. For my work with the 305th Bomb Group I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal.
When glider pilots were permanently grounded I requested relief from active duty and was released on 20 October 1946, but remained in the AF Reserves as a second Lieutenant. I returned to active duty as a technical sergeant on 4 July 1947. Shortly after returning to active duty I requested recall to active duty as a second lieutenant which was approved on 5 December 1948. I attended officer’s communications school at Scott AFB, Illinois, graduating on 23 November 1949. I was then assigned to the 512th Reconnaissance Squadron (VLR) Weather (later re—designated the 56th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron) from November 1949 to December 1952 at Yokota Air Base, Honshu, Japan during the Korean War. During my tenure in Japan as a C&E Officer I was awarded 7 Korean War combat battle stars and the First Oak Leaf Cluter to the Commendation Medal.
After returning to the states I served briefly as OIC of the communications-electronics section of the 48th Air Rescue Squadron at Maxwell AFB until ordered to Washington National Airport (now Reagan National AirPort) in DC as communications-electronics officer for Air Force One and other SAM (Special Air Mission) aircraft at WNA. I was responsible from September 1953 to June 1961 for the selection, installation and maintenance of all C&E equipment installed on the aircraft used by President Eisenhower, including Air Force One, the L-26 Aero Commander used to fly him back and forth to his farm at Gettysburg, Penne=Sylvania, and the Bell H—13J used to fly him back and forth to Andrews AFB, Maryland, and to and from the Burning Tree Golf Course. I flew on Air Force One to New York and Ontario, California, a number of times. It was a special trat to eat filet mignon on Air Force One at 17,000 feet enroute to California. I served the in same role for President Kennedy’s aircraft briefly. I was promoted to Captain and Major while at WNA and was awarded the second OLC to the Commendation Medal.
You could choose your next base assignment when you were reassigned from the SAM Unit, so I selected Hawaii. I was assigned as director of programs for the Pacific Communications Area until I retired after almost 24 year of service. I received a letter of appreciation on 16 June 1961. I retired as a Major at Travis Air Force Base, California, on 30 June 1964. For the next 24 years I worked for Motorola, Inc., a communications company in DC and Massachusetts, retiring on 31 December 1988 as area sales manager — Federal markets. I was responsible for the sales of seven districts in the northeastern part of the United States. Since I retired and moved to Prattville, Alabama, I have written and published the history of the 26th Mobile Reclamation and Repair Squadron based at Crookham Common, England from 1943 to 1945. I have also written ad had published a half dozen articles on World War II glider operations, including an article, “The Death of General Don F Pratt: A D–Day Glider Casualty,” who was the ass’t division commander of the 101st Airborne Division, and the highest ranking Allied officer killed on D–Day, 6 June 1944.
I am a director on the Executive Council of the National WWII Glider Pilots Association Inc. and also its national historian. In the spring of 2014 I organized a research team with the help of the research members and became their advisor/mentor. The team helps veterans and families find information about their relatives WW II history. The Association and the Research Team has a close relationship with a world class museum, The Silent Wings Museum, located in Lubbock, Texas. We also have a fully restored Waco CG-4A combat glider on display at the museum. In 2007 I was awarded the Charles Bickett Ellington Memorial Award for outstanding service in the interest of the National WWII Glider Pilots Association, Inc. I celebrated my 90th birthday on 6 September 2014.
Over the years Leon wrote many articles and co-wrote with Charles Day covering articles on the mechanics of the combat glider, the glider program, war time troop carrier history, biographical articles as well as many other interesting topics.
Leon passed away on December 28th 2016
Leon will be missed by the members of the Association and especially the Research Team who so relied on his advise and perspective of our research. However, his loss will be felt most deeply by his fellow veterans, his band of brothers.