Saturday, June 28, 2014

How Leo B. Leonard and His Sons met with President Eisenhower

During the summer of 1940 the Army had their most ambitious war games prior to World War II. The setting was the newly named Ford Ord, near Monterrey, California. Many of the soldiers involved in these war games used wooden rifles. There was little ammunition for the First World War cannons. Trucks were used as mock tanks. This exercise was to be the U.S. Army's first attempt at amphibious landing. As the troops came ashore from rowboats in Monterrey Bay, trucks zoomed back and forth with soldiers shouting boom boom, pretending they were tank guns firing away! Above the beach line, crowds of local citizens yelled and applauded while the 32nd Infantry regimental Band played. That band was conducted by Staff Sergeant Leo Bradford Leonard.

The Army maneuvers were partially planned by Mark W. Clark, a brilliant officer from the office of the Chiefs of Staff in Washington D.C. With Col. Clark was his friend and classmate from the West Point Class of 1915, Lt. Col. Dwight David Eisenhower. Ike (as he was called) was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, and wondered if he would ever get a regimental command. With nothing official to do but watch, Ike wandered over to the band and chatted with Staff Sergeant Leo B. Leonard. He asked Leo if he could play a song called "Abdul a bul bul a mir", Ike's favorite song. Staff Sergeant Leonard said that most of the boys knew that song from their many visits to the local bars, but they did not have the music with them since it was not scheduled for the program that day.

Ike Eisenhower met Leo Bradford Leonard again in late 1943. Ike was now a three-star General (Lt. General) and was Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in Europe. He had been in charge of all fighting in North Africa and then Sicily. Leo Bradford Leonard was a Chief Warrant Officer and in charge of the 88th Infantry Division Band. After the 88th Division landed in Casablanca, Ike's headquarters, Leo Bradford told the story that Ike had the band play for several banquets where French and Arab leaders were being entertained by Allied generals. It is reported that after dinner, Ike again requested the song "Abdul a bul bul a mir". The band declined and instead broke forth with two of Leo Bradford's favorites, "Bizet Has His Day" and "the Volga Boatman".

Maybe Ike didn't like being turned down! Several weeks later orders came directly to CWO Leonard to report for training as a Military Police Officer. He was to specialize in combat troop movement and prisoner of war control. Dad (Leo Bradford) liked to tell two versions of the story but insisted that he was called to that duty because experienced regular soldiers were at a premium. With thirteen years of service, Leo Bradford could not be wasted as a band leader. American troop performance had been mixed in the war so far. Experienced officers and enlisted men were needed in leadership positions in the activation of National Guard and reserve divisions that had been bloodied at Kaserine Pass and Anzio, Italy. Experienced officers could not be wasted and so Dad was sent to Provost Marshall School. Dad was made a 1st Lieutenant and returned to his 88th Division as Assistant Provost Marshall (Chief of Police).

Leo Bradford's next meeting with General Eisenhower (who later became President of the United States) came in the early summer of 1951. It was still several weeks before the Republican Party Convention, where Ike was actually nominated for President. The General and his wife Mame were staying at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver while visiting Mane's parents, the Dodds, who lived in East Denver off Montlake Boulevard. Dad shuttled his own family to the Brown Palace Hotel and awaited his interview while showing off the Napoleon Room Restaurant to his boys, Leo Donald and Phillip Merrill. After the audience with General Eisenhower, Dad claimed he had a very good conversation with Ike. The visit encouraged Dad to recount some of his earlier experiences with Ike, plus recalling some other events, including a far too modest account of how he won his first Bronze Star Medal in combat.

Later that summer of 1951, Ike Eisenhower returned to Denver, as he planned his campaign for the U.S. Presidency. One morning Dad privately asked me if I would like to have lunch with him. I said "yes." He told me how to dress. To avoid any problems at home, I was to go to the Base Teenage Club where I would await my ride in the military police car that would take me to his 14th and Champa Street downtown office. This was a plan we often used to avoid issues at home.

Dad was now a Major and was Provost Marshall of the Colorado Military District which included Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and parts of Idaho and Utah, plus senior command for Police Security of all the military bases within those assigned states.

After meeting Dad at his office, we went to Brown Palace in Denver where this time we both met Ike together. Ike asked me a few questions. I replied with some satisfactory answers and was then seated next to Mrs. Eisenhower who made small talk with me while the General conversed with Dad. I later found out the meeting was more business than pleasure. The General outlined necessary security plans and directed Dad to work with the Secret Service people while the Eisenhower's were in Denver.

Dad's last meetings with Eisenhower occurred after Eisenhower became President of the U.S. In 1954, President Eisenhower had a severe heart attack while visiting in Denver and was hospitalized at Fitzsimons Army Hospital which we lived only two blocks away from. We could stand in our backyard and view the upper story windows of the hospital wing with the President.

During the hospital stay, Dad was part of an intense security team that screened the entire region on a minute-by-minute basis. The tensions and stress were constant. Dad meet the President many times during Ike's hospital stay. I thought Dad aged over those months and I watched his health decline. The following year, Dad exercised a medical option and retired as a Lt. Colonel with 27 and a half years of service to his country. That was the end of Dad's meetings with Ike, but as a famous radio commentator named Paul Harvey says, "here is the rest of the story."

While Leo Donald lived in Denver, his girlfriend was Judy Robinson, the daughter of the Base Commander, Brigadier General Paul I. Robinson. Leo Donald met the President on several occasions at Judy's house. After golf on the base course, during one of the many short vacations from the White House, the President would stop at the Robinson house for drinks and poker or bridge, both games in which he excelled. After walking Judy home from the Teen Club, swimming, or school, Leo Donald was usually invited inside for cookies and milk and to listen to records. We always entered the house through the east facing kitchen door where after about two steps inside you could look into the dining room. A number of times, he could see Ike and General Robinson playing cards. Often other officers or civilians were in attendance. He never saw Mrs. Eisenhower (Mame) playing cards but occasionally she stood back watching the proceedings in the smoke filled room. Mrs. Robinson usually was in the kitchen directing her Philippine cook or Master Sergeant McClaskey. (Ike's old time retainer). The Sergeant had been with Ike for years. It was his job to keep the drinks coming. Judy and I would say our hello's and pass by the President on our way to the front room or the enclosed sun porch.

The first time I saw Ike around that table, he talked with me a short time. General Robinson told Ike about me. When Ike was reminded I was Major Leonard's son, Ike grunted and said he knew Leonard and that they went back a long way. When told Dad wanted me to go to West Point, Ike asked me a few more questions and admonished me to study hard. I heard later that he told General Robinson that I would have to grow some to be tall enough for the Point.

Phillip Leonard, Leo's younger brother, had two meetings with President Eisenhower. Phil caddied every day at the Post Golf Course in Denver. One day the President paid a surprise visit to the Golf Course. The caddy master called for caddies. There were only four available and Phil was one of those. He caddied for an officer in the Eisenhower foursome. Judy and I came by the course just as the foursome rounded the tenth hole. I remember, and Phil confirmed, that Ike sliced his shot about 180 yards to the right off the tenth tee. Funny how people sometimes remember details. You will have to ask Phil how Ike did that day on the course. Phil reports that there was some general small talk among the players and caddies after the game. Phil remembers the President buying everyone lunch back at the Pro Shop. Phil claims it wasn't as good a lunch as it might sound, just those tasteless pre-packaged ham and cheese sandwiches they used to serve with a soda.

Phil's last meeting with Ike was during Ike's heart attack recovery at Fitzsimons Hospital. One day, as was his custom, Phil Leonard bought his daily candy bar at the hospital gift shop and went up to the sun deck near the President's hospital room. As Phil was relaxing and enjoying the view, out rolls President Eisenhower in his wheelchair, along with his security people. Phil and the President made some small talk before the security people ushered him off the deck.

So what started years before with Eisenhower's request for CWO Leo Bradford Leonard's band to play "Abdul a bul bul a mir" ended with Phillip Leonard enjoying small talk with a President of the United States.

Written in 2003 by Leo Donald Leonard the son of Leo Bradford Leonard.

1 comment:

bvnaia said...

Wow - I just found this article what a treasure that you have there. My grandfather may have been one of those other officers playing cards. Although a Major at the time, he worked with Paul I Robinson for several years at both Fitzsimmons and Letterman. I have a nice 8x10 that Robinson signed when my grandfather Kenneth Bates retired.