Above: The only known picture of Harry J. Leonard from the Alma Record; Leonard’s Identification Badge; Leonard’s marker in Alma’s Riverside Cemetery.
Harry James Leonard was born September 4, 1888, in Fenton, Michigan. His parents, Frank and Anna, also had a younger son known as C.B. Harry attended Alma schools, graduating in 1903. Afterward, he attended Alma College for two years and graduated from the Valparaiso School of Telegraphy. Prior to the war, Leonard was working in Flint where he joined the Michigan National Guard. In 1917, he was initially left out of the guards but after a few weeks, he found a way to join them. He would eventually go to France with the 125th Infantry as Sergeant of E Company, which was part of the Rainbow Division.
There were other things that people did not know about Leonard until after he died. As a member of the National Guard, he had served during a bitter mining strike at Calumet, Michigan. He also had been stationed near the Mexican border during conflicts prior to the United States entry to the war. Because of his experience, Leonard knew something about being a soldier before he ever made it to France, and he “itched” to do his part. Something else that people did not know about him was that he suffered a personal tragedy – his young wife, Helen, died shortly after Leonard left for France from a surgical operation. They had been married just over two years.
As the summer of 1918 continued, the numbers of young Gratiot County men who died in France started to grow. In late August, news of Leonard’s death was announced in county newspapers, even though he been killed at Chateau Thierry on July 31. A report filed by Sergeant Alfred Johndro stated that Leonard had been wounded by machine gun fire on that afternoon and that he died at seven o’clock that night in a first aid station. He was buried three days later on the battlefield, ¾ of a kilometer south of the town of Cierges.
On April 12, 1921, Leonard’s father, Frank, received a telegram stating that his son was being brought home to Alma. Part of the arrangements of the body and burial were conducted through G.V.Wright’s funeral service in Alma. It was an especially hard arrival for many in Alma when Harry Leonard arrived as he was accompanied by another fallen Alma soldier, Leslie McLean. It turned out that both men were buried on the same day in the same location, Alma’s Riverside Cemetery. Both soldiers also had many people attend their funerals.
Harry J. Leonard was one of the oldest of Gratiot County’s men to die in the World War at the age of 37. He left behind his father and one brother.
Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed