By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Medal nominee Leonard DeWitt dies at 95

Marcus Larson/News-Register##A bronze statue honors Medal of Honor nominee Leonard DeWitt of McMinnville.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##A bronze statue honors Medal of Honor nominee Leonard DeWitt of McMinnville.

Lt. Col. Leonard DeWitt, nominated for a Medal of Honor for bravery displayed in World War II, died Saturday at the age of 95.

DeWitt’s medal nomination is still pending. However, fellow veterans were joined by community leaders in honoring him with a statue — a bronze likeness as he appeared in the 1940s — in December 2014.

The statue stands at the edge of the Oregon Mutual Insurance lot at Fourth and Cowls streets. A plaque explaining DeWitt’s service was recently added.

Daughters of the American Revolution’s Yamhill Chapter also nominated DeWitt for the national DAR Medal of Honor, citing his “great bravery and heroism while serving in the Pacific with the 41st Infantry Sunset Division of the Army National Guard.” The DAR’s most prestigious honor, it was awarded in May 2014.

DeWitt joined the National Guard following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His unit was called up to active duty with the 41st Infantry in the Pacific Theater.

During the Allied campaign to re-take New Guinea in July 1943, he single-handedly warded off a column of advancing Japanese soldiers.

He protected his fellow troops by fighting the enemy with an automatic rifle, a cache of hand grenades and bayonet. As a last resort, he threw his helmet at the advancing troops as well.

For his heroism, DeWitt received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest honor.

His commanding general also nominated him for the interdisciplinary Congressional Medal Honor, citing his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty.” But it never materialized.

Nearly 70 years later, his wife, Joanne, was joined by friends and fellow vets in mounting an effort to honor DeWitt with the medal he deserved. The 2013 Oregon Legislature voted unanimously to urge Congress to take action, without success so far.

DeWitt and his wife were also active in the campaign to build an Oregon memorial honoring WWII veterans, and attended the opening of the memorial in June 2014.

Following WWII, DeWitt served in Germany as part of the security forces. He went on to fight in the Korean War, earning a Purple Heart.

He described his service at the June meeting of McMinnville’s Band of Brothers, at which he and other Korean War vets were honored. “It was the worst war I ever got into,” he said, joking that he went because “it was the only one going at the time.”

DeWitt told Band of Brothers members about building double wire fence defense lines through the countryside.

A diminutive woman appeared and “gave the guys the devil for putting wire through her property,” he recalled.

She yelled at him in Korean. He said he didn’t speak any Korean, but quipped, “I knew what she was saying all right. She was telling me to go fight my war somewhere else.”

Arrangements are pending with Macy & Son Funeral Directors.