Winlock Historical Museum honors Major Edward Leonard –
Major Edward Leonard
In May 1973, Winlock welcomed a hero from his hometown with Christmas in May. Major Edward (Ed) Leonard fought in the Vietnam War and was also a POW for 4 years and 8 months. Today, the Winlock Historical Museum was fortunate to receive and display many articles, photos and other memorabilia from that day.
It was May 31, 1968, Ed Leonard was a pilot, he was piloting a propeller-driven Skyraider. He liked air missions. He enlisted once more; it was his last months. He was due to return home within 8 weeks when his plane was shot down over Laos. It was then that Ed became a prisoner of war. He was in fact held captive in Hanoi, northern Vietnam. Ed, serving a 13-month sentence at the time of his capture, had already received several metals. He was awarded two Silver Stars, three times the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart. He was in the Air Force, but he was our hero.
Ed Leonard was not on any POW list; his name had been omitted. Then there was a list of seven men that weren’t on the original list, Ed was one of them, he was coming home. Ed returned to the United States on March 27, 1973 at Clark Air Force Base.
Tommy Thompson, president of the Winlock Historical Museum wrote about his experience that day. He said: “My memories of Eddie Leonard’s return are fond memories that are shrouded in a shroud of nostalgia. It happened towards the end of my 4th year, and being all 11 years old, I’m sure i didn’t
understand the true significance of the efforts made by our fellow citizens to welcome him to their homes. I remember it was cool to be in the herd of kids heading downtown on a Friday afternoon instead of being stuck inside the old elementary school. A better feeling than seeing the film projector being brought into the classroom. I knew we’d be playing dumb all afternoon. And an aviator by the name of Eddie Leonard was the reason. “
As students in 1973, we knew it was important for us to be excluded from school. Tommy Thompson explains how most of us felt that day, he said: “I had a vague understanding that he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. I understood perfectly well that when she was asked what she missed most at home, it was Christmas. couldn’t understand that? “
Winlock was different then, Tommy continues: “Back then, downtown Winlock was a bustling town and all the storefronts were full. But the transformation that happened for Christmas created an atmosphere. almost magical. The high school art department painted everything. store windows with snowy Christmas themes. Sparkling garland banners that spelled Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays strung through the streets and brought to life at night with the colorful glow of the trees. Christmas lights. And even more Christmas lights in stores. Miss? “
Also at this time there was a family atmosphere at Winlock, it was not going to be a small event. Tommy Thompson said, “So that’s what our city did. We created Christmas in May. But we went further. What good is a parade without fanfare? Mount St. Helens High School (aka Winlock High School). led the parade wearing Santa hats and playing Christmas music. And we all gathered in a parking lot where the bank is now located, a podium at the south end where speeches were given by people a 4th grader didn’t know and probably didn’t pay attention to. in any event. It wasn’t until later in life that I was able to realize how important this day was. Not just for Eddie Leonard, but also for our community. Winlock really transformed that day to welcome one of his own. But that’s how we’ve always operated here at Winlock. We take care of our own. We always have. When bad things happen to good people, we always seem to come together to help. I have seen this happen several times. It’s times like these that give us a sense of belonging to this community. “
I was also a student who was able to attend the event so I thought I would share too. A few days before, many had decorated their homes for Christmas, it was truly a community transformed to welcome a hero. I also remember being on the gravel ground while the speeches were being made. I was shocked at how many film crews were there to capture the moment. The students were in front, some of us had our parents with us. I remember how excited my mom, Diana Hoffman, was for Ed Leonard to come home. The city was packed, people came out in droves to watch our hero be the Grand Marshal of that day. I remember people too, everyone was excited to see Ed. It was a day I haven’t seen since, a hero’s welcome.
After the war, Ed Leonard became a lawyer and resided in Ilwaco. He eventually became the mayor of Ilwaco, serving from 2002-2006. He was a real public servant in many ways. He was the kind of man who was humble, he had been a prisoner of war and he knew what others had been through. Ed passed away a few years ago on Veterans Day at the age of 76. What an incredible life and person.
The Winlock Historical Museum began in 1996. The addition of the Ed Leonard Memorial in the museum is absolutely worth a visit. I highly recommend a visit to the museum as there is a lot about the history of the city.