1st Sergeant Leonard Funk Jr.

Army 1st Sergeant Leonard Funk Jr. (U.S. Army photo)
Army 1st Sergeant Leonard Funk Jr. (U.S. Army photo)

In a driving January snowstorm, 1st Sgt. Leonard Funk Jr. led a makeshift platoon of clerks from the 82nd Airborne Division into Holzheim, Belgium. By Jan. 29, 1945, the German assault at Ardennes had been broken in the Battle of the Bulge, but enemy troops still held many small towns and villages.

House by house, Funk's clerk platoon took 15 German-occupied structures and 30 German prisoners. Another unit took 50 more. Sparing only four soldiers to guard them in a house yard, Funk and the rest of his platoon returned to the fight.

Later, Funk and a buddy returned to relieve the guards. Believing other paratroopers had arrived to help, Funk slung his Tommy gun over his shoulder. But when he walked into the yard, he found the tables turned. The American guards had been overpowered by their prisoners.

A Nazi officer jammed a pistol into Funk's stomach. Surrounded by 100 Germans, Funk feigned surrender. He then whipped his weapon around and killed the officer. The other Germans returned fire, killing Funk's friend. Funk reloaded his weapon, resumed firing, and shouted for aid. The captured U.S. soldiers seized German weapons and joined the fray. In seconds, they killed 21 Germans, wounded 24 more, and took the rest prisoner — again.

Funk received the Medal of Honor at the White House in 1945. When he died in 1993 after a distinguished career at the Veterans Administration (now the Veterans Affairs Department), he was the 82nd Division's sole surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient. At his funeral, a member of the Leonard Funk Association revealed the brave man's worst flaw: ". . .he even liked and appreciated officers. [This is] the final good-bye to a man who loved soldiers, privates, NCOs, and yes, even officers. He loved people. He treated every soldier from private on up as if they were a four-star general."

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Army Military History