Six months before he shipped off to the Vietnam War, Army Sgt. First Class Matthew Leonard and his elementary school sweetheart picked out their dream home, a modest six-room house in
Birmingham, Ala., they hoped to purchase and live in with their five children.
But because Leonard was going to war, the insurance companies considered him too much of a risk and would not insure the house. The couple was told to wait until he returned.
“Lois, if I don’t make it back, go on with our plan and buy a house,” Leonard told his wife of 17 years.
Leonard didn’t make it back.
On Feb. 28, 1967, Matthew’s platoon came under heavy attack near Suoi Da in South Vietnam by a large enemy force employing small arms, automatic weapons and hand grenades. The platoon leader and other key personnel were wounded, so Leonard assumed command, rallied his troops and set a defensive perimeter.
When a wounded companion fell beyond that perimeter, Leonard rushed to his aid, sustaining a sniper wound as he dragged the man to safety. He refused aid, and continued to lead his platoon in their defense.
Under the cover of the main attack, the enemy moved a machine gun into a location where it could sweep the entire perimeter. This threat was magnified when the platoon machine gun in this area malfunctioned. Leonard quickly crawled to the gun position and was helping to clear the malfunction
when the gunner and other men in the vicinity were wounded by fire from the enemy machine gun.
Leonard rose to his feet, charged the enemy gun and destroyed the hostile crew despite being hit several times by enemy fire. He moved to a tree, propped himself against it and continued to engage the enemy until he succumbed to his many wounds.
His valiant acts inspired the remaining members of his platoon to hold back the enemy until assistance arrived.
Leonard was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” He was one of
20 black Americans to receive that honor in Vietnam. There are only 3,425 identified Medal of Honor recipients total.
The medal and several other awards marking Leonard’s distinguished 20-year career in the military now hang on the living room wall of the couple’s dream home. Lois Leonard followed her husband’s direction and bought the house.
But the 70-year-old disabled woman faces eviction from that home, unless she comes up with $64,000 by Tuesday.
“I’m praying the Lord will touch somebody’s heart,” Mrs. Leonard told WorldNetDaily.
Bobby Randle, past commander of the Birmingham, Ala., chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, or MOPH, also has been doing a lot of praying.
“I told her, ‘Don’t have a heart attack; just keep praying that people will be able to help you out,'” Randle told WorldNetDaily.
The MOPH was established by George Washington in 1782 and chartered by Congress in 1932. Along with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, it’s one of only two strictly “combat” organizations in the country.
The organization is comprised exclusively of Purple Heart recipients, and its aim is to protect all who have received the decoration. It provides funds for the welfare and rehabilitation of the decorated through thrift stores and from its annual distribution of The Purple Heart Viola, the group’s official flower.
When one of Leonard’s neighbors alerted Randle to her predicament, Randle set up a “redemption fund” to try and raise the $64,000 needed to buy the house back from the mortgage
company that assumed it after foreclosure. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s office is expected to execute an eviction notice on Tuesday.
Leonard fell three months behind on her $661 mortgage payments while trying to renovate the decaying old home. After replacing the roof and fixing the bathroom, the repairs started snowballing to the point she found herself completely rewiring the house.
“Once you get behind, with medical bills and all it’s hard to catch up,” Leonard said. The widow suffers from diabetes, severe asthma and chronic bronchitis. She has been unable to work and raised the couple’s five children on the fixed income of her husband’s military benefits and disability payments.
She said her two sons are disabled and also on fixed incomes, and one of her daughters is living with her so she can afford to put her daughter through college.
“My husband always told me, ‘Lois, we don’t have a lot of money but we’ve got a lot of love,”’ Leonard recalled. “He’d say, ‘We married for richer or poorer. You’re in the poorer right now.'”
She said raising five children by herself took a lot of prayer.
“I stayed on my knees so much, I wore them out,” she laughed.
When asked what her husband would think about her imminent eviction, Leonard replied, “He would be real sad.”
Ironically, two years ago it was Leonard’s husband who faced an eviction of sorts. His grave site was overtaken by weeds in a condemned cemetery. Randle mobilized Birmingham veterans and succeeded in getting Leonard’s remains exhumed and relocated to a veterans’ cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Ala.
“I refuse to give up,” Randle said of his effort to help Lois Leonard. “I am quite confident that one way or the other the Lord will help me. … This has to work. Something has to give. I refuse to let that lady get tossed out on the street.”
Randle’s effort to raise the funds to spare Leonard by Tuesday got served a curve ball since banks are closed in observance of the federal holiday Monday. He plans to spend the weekend camped out at the Western Hill Mall in Fairfield, Ala., collecting donations.
“It gives me chills to think of a person dying for their country and his widow not receiving enough funds to help her survive. We’re preparing for war and we can’t take care of the ones who are here. Now that hurts,” Randle concluded.
Contributions can be made to the “Lois Leonard Redemption Fund” in person at any South Trust Bank in Birmingham, Ala. Checks should be made payable to and sent in care of the fund to 1725 28th Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35209. Contact Sarah Baker for more details at (205) 948-1070.