By Richard Sullins | firstname.lastname@example.org
That morning was every soldier and sailor’s dream. The skies were clear, the temperature was 75 degrees, and the conflicts taking place in other parts of the world were thousands of miles away. Here, on the island of Oahu, this Sunday morning was another day in paradise and Army Air Forces Sgt. Stanley McLeod of Lee County had been given a day of leave.
We’ll never know what went through his mind on the morning of December 7, 1941, as Japanese Imperial Forces attacked the naval base and airfields at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But it’s a certainty that when he got out of bed that Sunday morning, never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that people would still talk about him and what he did that day 80 years later.
A group of just over 100 people came to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5631 that bears his name on Tuesday, the 80th anniversary of the attack that plunged the United States into the Second World War. A group of 28 members of the Patriot Guard Riders began the ceremony by riding into the parking lot on 22 motorcycles. The colors were presented by cadets from Lumberton Senior High School. A bell was rung in memory of the honored dead and there was lunch. Retired Navy Captain Ron Hewitt provided inspiring remarks for the occasion. But the real focus of the event was on the first person from Lee County to give his life in the world’s bloodiest war.
Some members of Sgt. McLeod’s family attended the gathering and brought with them some of their most precious memories of Stanley. Among them is a letter written to his father in May 1936 while he was still in basic training at Fort Monroe, Virginia. He asked about the family crops and said that he had hoped to get a pass to come home for the weekend but couldn’t make it happen.
Sgt. McLeod was attached to the 19th Transportation Squadron of the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force, and was stationed at Hickam Field, just two miles south Pearl Harbor. The weather on that morning could not have been any better, especially for the Japanese aircraft that were closing in on their targets at 7:55 a.m.
Their focus was Battleship Row, where the U.S. Navy had seven of its largest battle cruisers moored at Ford Island. A secondary target was Hickam, where dive bombers hoped to destroy the runways, take out as many American airplanes as possible to give their fighters cover, and prevent the assault force from being followed the 220 miles back to their carriers.
Military histories have little to tell us about the heroic actions of individual soldiers and sailors that day. There was simply too much going on and no one to write it down. But Sgt. McLeod’s actions that morning are recorded in official Army records and several military histories, so it’s actually possible to piece together what happened as he took his place in American history.
Hickam was one of the Army Air Corps’ newest facilities, having just been completed in 1939. It was a state-of-the-art base that had the world’s biggest barracks – 10 wings that could sleep 3,000 soldiers – and a mess hall big enough to accommodate 2,000 GIs at a time. Hickam was home to 59 bomber aircraft and 12 of the new B-17 Flying Fortresses that were scheduled to arrive from the mainland that morning.
The sun had been up for an hour and a half when McLeod heard the roar of aircraft engines and bombs exploding at the nearby naval base. Stepping outside to see what was happening, he likely saw what many of the soldiers and sailors reported seeing on the sides of the aircraft that were buzzing along the tops of the barracks – the Japanese ‘Rising Sun’ emblem. This son of Lee County must have known that war had begun, and he was in it.
The weapons racks were locked and there was no time to find the keys, so they busted them open, and the firearms were hurriedly handed out. Ammunition had to be found and many soldiers quickly learned that they had not received training on the weapon they had been given. But there was no time to think. They were all running on pure adrenaline and these untested American soldiers were about to get their first taste of combat.
McLeod and Corp. William Anderson, a radio operator in his unit from Quantico, Virginia, went out to the parade ground and prepared to do what they could. It was an area centrally located on the base, in front of the flagpole and just behind the base headquarters that overlooked the runways. They were equipped with .45 caliber Thompson submachine guns having 20-clip magazines, no match for the onslaught that was bearing down on them from above. They were in an open field without cover, completely exposed with nowhere to hide. They must have known that they were about to give what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”
Sgt. Stanley McLeod was 26.
How long they lasted or what success they might have had isn’t known, but the most vicious part of the attack against Hickam took place between 8:40 and 9:30 a.m. as the Japanese bombers concentrated on the hangars and fuel tanks. The official casualty count at Hickam that day was 189 men killed and 303 wounded.
Among the wounded was Stanley’s brother, Bernice, who was stationed at Hickam along with Stanley. Bernice survived, as did his brother Sandy, who served in the Marines.
Twelve men died from Sgt. McLeod’s 19the Transportation Squadron on December 7. The 19th went on to conduct aerial transportation between the Hawaiian Islands and forward bases in the Pacific for the remainder of the war. As the Cold War started, it was the 19th that conducted the airlift of goods into West Berlin when the city was blockaded by the Soviet Union in 1948 and 1949.
Sgt. McLeod’s remains were returned to North Carolina and buried at Morris Chapel United Methodist Church Cemetery in Harnett County, just across from the Lee County line. At a ceremony at the Community Center in Jonesboro in the spring of 1942, McLeod was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart, and the Silver Star.
The citation read aloud Tuesday to the crowd of 200 said that “Sergeant McLeod seized a submachine gun and taking a position in the open flying field without shelter, he continued firing upon attacking Japanese dive bombers until he was killed by a bomb fragment.”
General John T. Kennedy, commanding officer of Fort Bragg, presented the award to McLeod’s father and said “I congratulate you personally on raising a boy who was willing to lay down his life without flinching. The heroism of Sgt. Stanley McLeod, acting in defense of his country, is symbolic of the spirit that will enable America to win the war.”
Sgt. McLeod was the first of 53 Army and Army Air Forces soldiers to give their lives in World War II from Lee County. The Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard do not maintain records of casualties from the war by county.
The conflict that began at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and ended four years later in Tokyo Harbor was the ugliest and most costly of all human wars. 75 million people died around the world because of its impacts. 405,399 American servicemen and women lost their lives in defense of freedom and another 670,846 were wounded. This war fought on a global scale touched almost every family.
Lest we forget.