New Bedford, Massachusetts
January 23, 1921 – 12 October 2008
Léo Major moved with his family to Montreal before he turned one. Due to a poor relationship with his father, he moved to live with an aunt at age 14. This relationship combined with a lack of available work led Major to join the army when Canada declared war on Nazi Germany. He wanted to prove to his father that he was somebody to be proud of. He trained initially in Canada and then in Scotland where he became a sniper and scout.
He landed at Normandy on D-Day and on the first day he alone captured a German armoured vehicle (a Hanomag Sd.Kfz 251) full of German radios with the German Code. This helped the Canadian army because they where now able to listen to German HQ orders. Within a couple of days he lost an eye after his first encounter with a SS group. All the SS where killed during this battle but the last one before dying threw a phosphorous grenade at Leo Major . He refused to be evacuated – an act he repeated later when his back was broken while he help pickup bodies after a tank battle (His Bren Carrier was destroyed after he passed on a mine). Late in 1944 during the battle of the Scheld he captured 93 German soldiers by himself, using one as a hostage. He was going to be decorated by Montgomery but he refused the medal due to his disdain for the man. On April 13th, 1945 at beginning of darkness he and his best friend “Willy Arseneault” went on a mission in Zwolle to evaluate the enemy strength, but unfortunately Willy was killed. Leo Major decided to continue the mission alone and on April 14, 1945 at 5h00 he liberated the city of Zwolle in the Netherlands by himself. A garrison of hundreds of Germans retreated as Major entered the city, shooting key people (including four SS officers) lighting the Gestapo HQ on fire and throwing grenades to create as much noise and confusion as possible. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (the second highest honor available) for his efforts and his friend Willy was awarded the Bronze Lion on April 14th, 1970 by Queen Juliana.
Major also fought in the Korean War. He was asked to lead a small group of men to recapture a hill nicknamed “Little Gibraltar” that was lost by the Americans who had fled, leaving everything behind. His men wore running shoes to mask the sound of their approach and successfully held off the Chinese for many days, refusing to surrender. For this effort he won another Distinguished Conduct Medal. His regiment, “Regiment de la Chaudiere”, has created an award in his name to be given to the company that performs best each year in competition.