WWII Veteran Leonard Wolf is honored to receive the Legion of Honor, an award he wants to dedicate it to his comrades
Mr. Wolf is going to be awarded the Legion of Honor for his service to France during the Second War. He will be officially receiving his medal in the name of the President of the French Republic.On Veteran’s Day, on Friday, November 11, ten other veterans will also be awarded by Mr. Gael de Maisonneuve, Consul General of France in Miami, in the city of Homestead.
Before WWII and the departure
In 1943, as a young man of about 19 years old, Mr. Leonard Wolf, who served as a Private First Class in the 103rd Infantry Division, embarked on a journey to fight with the Allied troops in the Second World War.
When the United States of America entered WWII in 1942, Leonard Wolf was a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, pursuing his studies in Engineering.
Considering the intensity of the war, he knew that there was a great probability that he might be called in to serve with the U.S. Army.
In anticipation of being drafted to go into service, along with his engineering courses, he became a part of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).
When asked about how he had felt upon confronting the fact that he would have to go to war, he responds with certainty and conviction that, “It was either that, or… the Nazis were going to take over the entire world.”
He recalls the intensity of that period, young American men were very mindful of the fact that they were all going to be involved in one way or the other.
Mr. Wolf took part in several battles across central Europe, particularly the Battle of the Bulge in France, which is known as one of the largest and bloodiest battles fought in World War II. He comments that even before landing on French soil, he had a very great vision of France and esteemed it very highly, seeing France as, “One of the leaders of the world who showed what freedom and justice and liberty meant.”
Upon his arrival in France, Mr. Wolf and his comrades first landed in the city of Marseille. Coincidentally, his bataillon’s first day of combat was November 11, 1944.
November 11, which is now celebrated as Veterans Day, was previously celebrated as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, in commemoration of the armistice that was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany for the cessation of the hostilities on the Western Front. This document was signed on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918, and this official date marked the end of the Great War.
It is quite ironic that this very same day was Mr. Wolf’s first day of combat in France, and he remembers saying to one of his fellow soldiers, “Do you know what day it is? It’s Armistice Day! So why are we here fighting in a war?”
His troop, the 103rd Infantry Division of the 384th Field Artillery Battalion, was recognized as being one of the most disciplined troops, being among the first to cross the Vosges Mountains in record time during the bitter mid-winter season.
The Battle of the Bulge also brought back several memories for Mr. Wolf.
He recollects that the Germans had taken tanks and troops from all their divisions so as to throw a massive attack on the Allied Lines in the Ardennes region.
He could not believe how much the Germans succeeded in causing the Allied troops to retreat, while recapturing territories that the Americans had just liberated, but he remembers the strength, defiance, and persistence of the Allied soldiers as they fought brutally against the Germans forces. He also recalls that at that time, the winter was so bitter and bleak that “you could barely see your hands in front of your face.”
While serving in the army, Mr. Wolf also had the opportunity to learn a little French. He remarked that during free time there was not much to do except maybe play a game of cards or dice, but as a student at heart, he would choose to read.
The military dispersed small red books to soldiers, which told them which countries they might land in and provided brief lessons of the language spoken in that country, so that the soldiers would be able to communicate and understand a little of what was being said if they were to end up in that particular country.
Mr. Wolf decided to study the limited amount of French that was given in the book in anticipation of landing in France..
He recounts that during a break in his service in Marseille, he approached a young boy, greeted him, and then said, “Avez-vous une bouteille de vin?”
The young boy then ran off, and Mr. Wolf laughs as he remembers thinking that he had scared away the child, until the boy returned; holding up the bottle of wine that Mr. Wolf had requested.
Learning French also proved to be even more useful than helping him to get a bottle of wine, as he also shares a story in which a French man approached his sergeant and began relaying what seemed like some important information.
His sergeant, unable to understand, sent Mr. Wolf since he spoke some french, Mr. Wolf found himself on one end of the stretcher on an uncleared mine field helping to get the wounded man out.
Through these experiences, Mr. Wolf feels that he has developed a special affinity for France and a deep respect for the history of the country.
One of the greatest effects that the war has had on his life is the boost of confidence and self-reliance while serving in the Army. Prior to enlisting in the U.S. Army, Mr. Wolf remembers himself as being unsure.
While serving in the Army, his confidence was bolstered and he remembers saying to himself, “If I can do this, and if I get out of this alive, when I get back, I’m not going to be lacking in self-confidence anymore. I think I can do anything. I’m called upon to do.”
This self-proclamation certainly proved to be true, as Mr. Wolf returned to Florida, obtained his law degree, and successfully practiced in the field of law for several years.
When asked how he feels about the upcoming ceremony, he responded, “I feel honoured, but I feel I’m accepting this honor on behalf of those others who are not here…particularly for those who did not come back from the war.”
He highlights the fact that many men were brave, answered the call of duty, and performed their duty well. He witnessed so many actions that were taken, which outside of the war, would have been called brave, but which while fighting, were viewed as common, every-day responses.
Hence, he believes these men must be duly recognized for their brave response in the face of war, hostility, and danger. He conveyed the feeling that he is not only receiving this honor for himself, but also on behalf of everyone else who served.
These men demonstrated courage and selflessness in fighting for freedom during World War II.
Their induction into the Legion of Honor, France’s highest distinction, serves to remind them of France’s undying gratitude for their bravery. “The French will never forget…”
Losner Park110 N Krome Ave., Homestead, FL 33030
Date: November 11th at 11:00 am