Honoring one man’s journey

Buck Underwood of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (right) pins a Purple Heart on Robert Leonard’s jacket at Monday’s Dovray Unit No. 632 Memorial Day program. Photo / Per Peterson

More than 50 years have passed since Robert Leonard’s return from Vietnam. On Monday, his service — and his family’s perseverance — was rewarded in a big way.

As tall as he is, Robert Leonard usually stands above the crowd. On Monday at Memorial Day services hosted by Dovray American Legion Unit No. 632, the Vietnam veteran towered above everyone else for a much different and far more poignant reason.

A month shy of 51 years since returning home from his service to the United States in Vietnam — including two decades of tireless work by his family — Leonard was honored with the Purple Heart, which is awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy.

The 73-year-old Leonard, who was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966 and also earned two bronze stars, said after Monday’s ceremony that he is thankful for many things.

“With my daughter being the speaker, I’m very proud,” he said. “It’s a good feeling. Anytime the family gets together, it’s just great … if you don’t have family, you don’t have anything. This is a great feeling. All the people who came today — probably 95 percent of them I know — that made the day very special.”

“This is important,” said his daughter, Amy Ziegler, who told of Robert’s story Monday. “For his kids, his grandkids … it’s important. It’s been a long time coming. Today’s a good day.”

After Ziegler’s reading, Buck Underwood of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, pinned the Purple Heart on Robert Leonard’s jacket.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart was formed in 1932 and is composed exclusively of Purple Heart recipients. It is the only veterans’ service organization comprised solely of combat veterans.

The road to bringing Robert’s Purple Heart to the small church in Dovray was indeed a long one for the family — “21 years of writing letters, making phone calls, trying to do the right thing,” said Amy, who credited other family members and her father’s service buddies for making Monday possible. Also, the subject of Leonard’s time in the service wasn’t exactly one that was brought up over dinner at the Leonard household.

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.