Honoring a commitment to a fallen hero
When the snow fell during the evening of Jan. 28, it kicked off two days of trials, tribulations and stories for a southeastern U.S. population largely unprepared for a winter weather event. On the evening news, most of those stories focused on the disastrous impact of the weather on commuters in Atlanta, as hundreds of motorists were forced to abandon their cars in unmoving traffic.
The Central Savannah River Area dodged mayhem on that scale, but CSRA residents have their own stories of adversity to tell. One of those stories involves a hero who was laid to rest on Jan. 29, while most of us were hunkered down, riding out the weather.
On April 26, 1969 then- Specialist Fourth Class Leon Peoples led a fire team on a search-and-destroy mission in the Phu Bai province of the Republic of Vietnam. Here’s what the citation for the Distinguished Service Cross he earned that day says about his heroism:
“As the team advanced, the enemy opened up on them with streams of automatic weapons fire which held them fast to the ground and wounded many. Sergeant Peoples then drew the attention of the communist firepower by rushing them and dropping behind available cover as he assaulted. With grenades prepared for immediate detonation he made a final spring and dived for cover as the ejected grenades ripped through the hostile stronghold. Detecting a second bunker from which the enemy were placing suppressive fire on his team, Sergeant Peoples stole near the emplacement and unleashed on it several well-placed grenades. After dropping back for re-supplies of ammunition, he again infiltrated the enemy complex under thick fire and crawled without rifle up to a third bunker and eliminated its occupants with grenades. Picking up an enemy weapon, he then began routing the demoralized communists as they frantically retreated.”
Peoples attained the rank of sergeant first class during his career. In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross, he also earned the Silver Star, two Bronze stars with V devices, two Purples Hearts, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm. His service is also enshrined at the Heroes Overlook at the Augusta Riverwalk, and he was awarded a key to the city in 1993. He died on Jan. 24.
A detail was scheduled to provide military honors at his funeral in Stapleton, Ga., on Jan. 29, but road conditions made the funeral detachment’s 30-mile journey to the ceremony too risky. So SFC Peoples was laid to rest without the military honors to which he was entitled by his service.
As word of the cancellation circulated among leaders at Fort Gordon, it quickly became obvious that the Army owed a debt of honor to Peoples and his family. On Saturday, Garrison Command Sergeant Major Kenneth Stockton and a detail of soldiers from the Installation Support Detachment visited Peoples’ surviving family to repay that debt. They ceremonially refolded the American flag used at Peoples’ funeral, and presented it to the family, along with the thanks of a grateful nation.
The story of SFC Leon Peoples is only one of hundreds from last week’s winter storm. But it’s a story of challenge and adversity, and it sends a clear and resounding message straight from the text of the Soldiers Creed.
The Army did not leave a fallen comrade.