LEONARD, TURNEY WHITE
LEONARD, TURNEY WHITE (1921–1944). Turney White Leonard, Medal of Honor recipient, was born on June 18, 1921, in Dallas, Texas. He was the son of Ernest and Lily (Bell) Leonard. As a child, Leonard lived for a period with his grandparents, Tyree and Martha Bell. Tyree Bell instilled in his grandson a love for nature and the importance to attend college and study agriculture. After his grandfather’s death, Leonard’s uncle, Tyree Bell, Jr., a successful businessman and graduate of Texas A&M, served as a friend and mentor to the youngster. As a student in the Dallas School System, Leonard seized the opportunity to join the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Although forced to drop out of ROTC due to a job conflict, he consistently made the honor roll in high school.
Leonard entered Texas A&M in September 1938 and was assigned to the Infantry Corps of Cadets. Leonard excelled in both his academic and military training. He earned the Best Drilled Award for his unit as a sophomore, served as the first sergeant of his cadet company as a junior, and as company commander his senior year. Leonard also earned Distinguished Student status and membership in the Scholarship Honor Society. He graduated with a degree in agricultural administration on May 16, 1942. Having graduated as a distinguished military graduate, Leonard received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Regular Army. After additional training at the Officer Training Course at the Tank Destroyer Center at Camp Hood, Leonard served as an instructor at the center for a few weeks.
In early 1943 Leonard was assigned to the 893rd Tank Destroyer Battalion at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. His company commander in his new unit was Capt. Marion Pugh, a Texas A&M graduate and football star. The two became close friends during their training at Camp Shelby. The unit undertook an intensive training program in the spring of 1943 on the new M10 tank destroyer. The battalion arrived in Liverpool, England, in January 1944 and boarded ships after D-Day and landed in Normandy on July 1. After taking part in combat in Normandy and northern France, the battalion reached Belgium and moved near the German border defenses—the Siegfried Line.
In early November 1944 First Lieutenant Leonard of Company C, 893rd, faced hostile Germans forces along the Belgium-German border in the battle of the Huertgen Forest, one of the more vicious and most forgotten American engagements of World War II. As a platoon commander of mobile weapons near the German village of Kommerscheidt, Leonard provided inspiring leadership against overwhelming enemy fire on November 4, 5, and 6. After taking a reconnaissance mission, Leonard encountered hostile fire from a German machine gun which he eliminated with a hand grenade. On another occasion when a German attack threatened to overtake friendly positions, Leonard “moved through withering artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire, reorganized confused infantry units whose leaders had become casualties, and exhorted them to hold firm.” Wounded early in the fighting, Leonard continued to issue commands until a high-explosive shell shattered his arm. Forced to withdraw, Lieutenant Leonard headed to a medical aid station and was not seen alive again. The station was later taken by the Germans. On November 27, 1944, Lily Leonard received a telegram reporting that her son was missing in action, raising hope that he was still alive as a prisoner of war.
Captain Pugh wrote the recommendation that Leonard be awarded the Medal of Honor which was approved by Gen. Courtney Hodges, First Army’s commanding general. Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker presented the medal to Leonard’s mother in Dallas at the Headquarters, Eighth Service Command on October 24, 1945. Leonard’s body, however, was not recovered until November 1949. The body was found in a caved-in dugout near where Leonard was last seen alive. On May 30, 1950, Turney Leonard was eulogized at a ceremony at Crozier Technical High School in Dallas. During the program, Marion Pugh stated: “Turney Leonard was the bravest and finest person I ever saw or knew. I owe my life to him and there are three hundred others who feel as I do.” The next day, Turney Leonard was buried at Grove Hill Memorial Park in Dallas.
Fifty years later, Turney Leonard was the subject of news reports out of Germany. In 1946 a young German, Alfred Hutmacher, found Lieutenant Leonard’s Texas A&M class ring when aiding American authorities searching for remains of soldiers. Hutmacher kept the ring. Fifty-Four years later, Hutmacher’s son-in-law, German army Lt. Volker Lossner discovered the ring and saw the name Turney Leonard engraved on it. Lossner took the ring to the U.S. Army Liaison Office in Bonn where the ring was identified as a Texas A&M Class ring by Col. Thomas Fosnacht. After a basic internet search, Fosnacht realized the significance of Turney Leonard and the ring and began the process to contact Texas A&M. On November 11, 2000, Lieutenant Lossner returned Turney Leonard’s Aggie class ring to members of the Leonard family in ceremonies at Texas A&M.
First Lt. Turney Leonard has been honored in a number of ways in Texas. Leonard’s class ring is permanently displayed on the A&M campus at the Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center as is his Medal of Honor. Texas A&M also renamed Dormitory 7 the Turney W. Leonard Hall in 1969. An artist’s rendition of Leonard hangs, along with a specimen Medal of Honor, and the citation, in the Memorial Student Center. In 1950 American Veterans of World War II Post 22 in Dallas was named after the Texas hero.
Henry C. Dethloff with John A. Adams, Jr., Texas Aggies Go To War: In Service of Their Country (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2006). James R. Woodall, Texas Aggie Medals of Honor: Seven Heroes of World War II (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2010).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Henry Franklin Tribe, "Leonard, Turney White," accessed July 25, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fle70.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 20, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.