WWII Veteran reflects back on experiences
The Memphis, Tenn., native retired as a staff sergeant in October 1966 after serving in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War. He is one of the reasons for Veterans Day Nov. 11, a federal holiday dedicated to honoring veterans who served honorably in war or peacetime.
Leek was trained to fight in the infantry during World War II. “At that time winning for our country was the most important thing for me,” he explained. “Winning for ‘Old Glory’ – our flag – was why most of us joined to fight.”
During his military service he saw a lot of changes in the Army and in the country. “When I first went in the service there were only 48 states that made up the United States,” he said. “Later Alaska and Hawaii were added.”
Another change he noticed was in troop movement. “Soldiers travelled mainly by ships during World War II,” Leek said. “The first ship I ever rode on was called “General Black. It was a small troop ship.”
Leek left the Army after the war, but returned. “I went in and later got out only to get back in again, and I never got out again until I retired,” he explained. “I have records from the Army that show I never missed a day in the 20 years I served in the Army. I was always working.”
Now at the age of 85, he looks back with pride at his 20 years of service and what he had accomplished.
“When I first went into the Army back in 1946 I didn’t have a lot of education,” Leek admitted. “I only went to the sixth grade. I couldn’t drive anything, but a team of mules.”
Over the years, he applied himself and served not only in the infantry, but the Ordnance Corps, and with the Corps of Engineers. “My supervisors let me learn on my own,” he explained. I taught myself how to drive a jeep and later a tank.”
Of the three wars, Leek admits the Korean War was the most difficult time for him. “We didn’t have food,” he said. “We didn’t have the right clothing [to handle the weather] and there were not enough men [American Soldiers],” he said.
“There were no hospital ships to take care of you,” he added. “You had to fight the cold. My feet were frozen. That’s why my feet are in the shape they are in now.”
Leek recalls he was hit in the head during the war. He still bears the scars. “I got that in North Korea,” he explained [as he pointed to his head]. “It was there, where I came pretty close to becoming a prisoner of war, but I outsmarted them.”
He talked about the Chinese military advancing on a house while he was inside conducting a search for the enemy. “I hid behind a door just as the Chinese were entering the house,” Leek said. “Fortunately, the front door was open so they thought I went out it. When they went around the house I went out another door and ran down the road.”
“We had to get away from them because we d idn’t have enough manpower to fight them,” Leek added.
During the Vietnam War, he remembered the bombing of an airport. “When I left Vietnam you got out by planes,” he said. “We got hit by mortars from the Chinese. They had set up on the other side of the airport and hurled mortars like coconuts falling off a tree while we were waiting to leave the country.”
“We lost some of our men that day,” he added. “We couldn’t have any weapons on us to board the plane; that’s why Special Forces were sent out to stop the Chinese so our plane could finally take off.”
“I wish we didn’t have to have wars,” Leek said. “I hope we don’t have to have any more.”
After serving 20 years in the Army he decided it was time to put in his retirement papers. “They tried to get me to re-enlist, he said. “They offered another stripe if I would, but I couldn’t because I had a family.”
Leek raised five kids by himself. After leaving the Army he first went to Columbus, Ga., where he worked at making car batteries. Later he moved back to his home state of Tennessee, but he didn’t get to stay very long because he couldn’t find work.
Finally, he moved to Augusta where he finished raising his children. “I helped build the Pringles potato chip plant, the Duncan Hines plant and two paper mills here,” Leek said.
Today he has outlived most of his family. His half brother Bill, who also served in World War II, died three years ago. His eldest daughter Mary Ann is gone too.
The Grovetown resident lives with his wife Micha and their dachshund, Tassi. “That is my whole life,” Leek said as he looked at his wife. “I would be lost with her.”
“I am proud I was able to do what I did for this country,” Leek said. “They don’t owe me anything; I owe this country.”