1st Lt. Turney White Leonard, Class of 1942
Medal of Honor recipient
Born June 18, 1921
Killed in action Nov. 6, 1944
Turney Leonard was born in 1921 in Dallas and raised by his grandparents in Harlingen, according to Texas Aggie Medals of Honor by James R. Woodall. Leonard returned to Dallas after his grandfather died, and attended Dallas Technical High School his sophomore year. Dal-Tech offered specialized vocational education so students would have a foundation in a field after graduation. Leonard had an interest in agriculture and was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps program, according to Woodall's book.
Leonard's uncle Tyree Bell Jr., Class of 1913 and an Aggie football star, filled the role of mentor in Leonard's life and encouraged him to enroll at Texas A&M, according to Texas Aggies Medals of Honor. (Bell, a successful civil engineer, was active in the Association of Former Students and a former president of the Cotton Bowl.) Leonard enrolled in 1938 to study agriculture administration, according to his Distinguished Alumni profile.
He lived in Dorm 5, which today is called Gainer Hall, his sophomore year. Leonard paid his way through school as a waiter at Sbisa and Duncan dining halls, and was Company I commander his senior year, according to Texas Aggie Medals of Honor. He was among 725 seniors who received degrees in May 1942. Maj. Gen. Andrew Bruce, Class of 1916, administered the service oath for 529 of those seniors — including Leonard — who were commissioned as second lieutenants, according to Eagle articles.
Battle of Hüertgen Forest
Leonard reported for active duty in May 1942 and received officer training at Fort Hood, the center for tank destroyers. Bruce commanded the center and today is known as the "Father of Fort Hood," according to the Texas State Historical Marker.
After Leonard completed his training, he was assigned as an instructor. In January 1943, Leonard transferred to the 893rd Tank Destroyer Battalion at Camp Shelby for training. Capt. Marion Pugh, Class of 1941 and an Aggie football legend, was Leonard's company commander, according to Texas Aggie Medals of Honor. The battalion left the United States for Europe in January 1944.
The battalion received more combat training upon arriving in England. By July 1944, a month after the Normandy invasions, Leonard led his platoon onto the French beaches. The armored battalion supported several infantry divisions across France. In August, the 893rd was attached to the 22nd Infantry Division when it liberated east Paris and its surrounding villages, taking control from the German soldiers. The battalion continued across Europe, supporting the 4th Infantry Division into Belgium, pushing back the German line. As Allied forces closed in on the west side of Germany, the Nazis presented strong initial resistance, a.k.a. the German West Wall, according to PBS' The War.
The Hüertgen Forest presented a natural barrier to the German defense line. The Allied combat operation in the forest had begun in September, and by December, it would be one of the worst defeats the U.S. Army suffered in World War II. Approximately 33,000 Americans were declared killed in action, wounded, missing or captured.
In late October 1944, the 893rd battalion was in the Hüertgen Forest near Kommerscheidt, Germany. Leonard "repeatedly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire" while leading a platoon, according to the Texas State Historical Association. He scouted ahead of the tank battalion and reorganized infantry troops whose officers had been killed in combat.
Leonard had been wounded early on, but not enough to deter him from the mission, including directing artillery fire in the destruction of six enemy tanks. A high-explosive shell shattered his arm on November 6. Leonard was last seen seeking medical aid and was reported missing in action.
Pugh submitted the recommendation that Leonard be awarded the Medal of Honor, and called Leonard "the bravest man he ever knew," according to Texas Aggie Medals of Honor. Leonard's family received his Medal of Honor, issued September 1945, for "his superb courage, inspiring leadership, and indomitable fighting spirit," according to his medal citation.
Leonard's family persisted in trying to find him. Bell reached out to Texas congressmen to pressure the War Department in continuing the search. In 1949, the American Graves Registration Service units, charged with recovering the war dead, questioned several officers and Kommerscheidt-area residents about battlefield events and specifically Leonard. One officer noted a local farmer's abandoned dugout shelter was being used as a command post. The officer had last seen Leonard, his left arm almost completely severed, seated against a wall, according to Texas Aggie Medals of Honor. Other officers recalled the command post was surrounded by German soldiers and those still alive were forced to surrender.
After extensive searches, Leonard's remains and those of another officer were found in the dugout in November 1949, nearly five years to the day that they had died. The command post had been run over by German tanks and caved in over time. Teams excavated the command post and recovered the remains that were then taken to Belgium to confirm identification.
Leonard's family was notified in January 1950, and arrangements were made for him to be buried in Dallas. A memorial service was held Memorial Day in Dallas. Pugh gave a eulogy alongside Gibb Gilchrist, chancellor of the Texas A&M College System, and state Rep. Olin E. Teague, Class of 1932, according to Texas Aggies Medal of Honor. Leonard was buried in Grove Hill Memorial Park cemetery.
Honoring an Aggie
In 1946, a German teen named Alfred Hutmacher found a gold ring while working for American teams locating war dead and burials in the Kommerscheidt area, according to an exhibit at the Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center. He pocketed the ring, took it home and dropped it in a drawer, where it stayed for the next 56 years, until he remembered it in the fall of 2000. Hutmacher and his son-in-law, German Lt. Obit Volker Lossner, noticed a name engraved on the inside.
Lossner contacted the U.S. Army Liaison's Office in Germany, who in turn identified it as an Aggie Ring and contacted A&M officials. Since the ring had not been returned with Leonard's remains, family members believed it had been lost on the battlefield.
"I found something that belonged to 1st Lt. Leonard on the battlefield from the second World War," Lossner said, according to November 2000 Eagle articles. Lossner's great uncle, a German soldier, had been killed in action during the same battle as Leonard.
"I feel somehow bound to [Leonard] — as a soldier to a soldier," he said. "Because like him, I am also a soldier, I wanted to learn something about the person who wore this ring. In no way could I have imagined it might belong to a famous hero."
Texas A&M arranged for Lossner and U.S. liaison officer Col. Thomas Fosnacht, who helped in the search identifying the ring, to travel to College Station and present the ring to Douglas Leonard, Turney Leonard's remaining living sibling. More than 30 members of Leonard's family attended the Veterans' Day ceremony at the Corps of Cadets Center.
"Lt. Leonard was one of many who came to liberate my country," Lossner said upon presenting the ring. "And my country has used the chance given by his death and those of his comrades to once again become a full and democratic state. We owe a debt of gratitude to Turney White Leonard and his fallen Americans, for which I simply say, 'danke schoen.'"
"It is just like a part of him is coming home," Leonard's niece Karen Kershaw said of the ring, according to a November Eagle article.
Leonard's family presented his Medal of Honor and other decorations for permanent display at the Corps Center. There is also a bronze plaque of his military portrait. The ring was presented again to Douglas Leonard during a ceremony on Kyle Field prior to kickoff before the A&M-Oklahoma football game.
Corps Dorm 4 was renamed for Leonard in 1969, and he is recognized in the Hall of Honor at the Memorial Student Center with his portrait and a reproduction of the medal.
-- Compiled by Claire Heathman