From Small Town America to A Small Town Surrounded By Nazis
Leon Stanford grew up on a small farm in rural Larrabee, Iowa, and had no aspirations to fight against the Nazis in another country. Leon was drafted into United States Army during World War II when he was 18 years old. Wanting to become an officer in the Army, the 120 pound Leon was denied that opportunity because they said he was too young and too small. He eventually found his way to the 84th Infantry Division “The Railsplitters” on a small mortar team.
The 84th Infantry Division entered combat on November 18, 1944, with an attack on Geilenkirchen, Germany, (Operation Clipper) as part of the larger offensive in the Roer Valley, north of Aachen. Operating under the command of Lt-Gen Brian Horrocks the division was supported by British tanks of the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry. Operation Clipper was an Allied offensive by British XXX Corps and the United States 84th Infantry Division to reduce the Geilenkirchen salient.
Leon spent his first day in combat being pinned down in an apple orchard and fighting the Germans trying to take down the heavily fortified city of Geilenkirchen. On his second day of combat, Leon was in a trench taking fire from the Germans when a British tank pulled up next to him. “Oh, crap,” Leon said as he knew this situation may not be good. “The Germans did not like those tanks, and they wanted it.” As soon as the thought came, the thought went along with his body after it was hit by an artillery round that riddled his lower body with shrapnel and blew off some of his toes. Leon was rescued and put onto a litter where he would spend the next few months recovering. Leaving his friends and comrades behind. After 48 hours of fighting, Leon‘s war was over.
The novice 84th Infantry Division took the city of Geilenkirchen. German prisoners of war told Leon “We knew you guys were a new squad, but you guys fought like hell.” Not long after, the 84th Infantry Division moved to Belguim to stem the German offensive in the Battle of the Bulge.
After returning home from the war, Leon attended Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, Iowa. Spent many years as a high school principal in Sutherland, Iowa.
Everyone has a story. And this story from a humble man near Larrabee, Iowa will now live forever!
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