Léo Major was a Canadian soldier during World War II who was the only person known to win the Distinguished Conduct Medal in two separate wars, and for good reasons. He was injured when he was sent in during the Normandy Invasion in June 1944, where he lost partial vision of his left eye to a phosphorus grenade while fighting a group of Nazi soldiers. He refused to be evacuated, insisting he only needed his right eye to sight a rifle. But that’s not even what got him his medals.

Léo’s Background

Léo Major was born to French-Canadian parents. They lived in New Bedford in Massachusetts, and his father used to work for the American Railroad Company in the US, but they moved back to Montreal. It was said that he didn’t have a good relationship with his father, so he moved to live with his aunt at the age of 14. When he was 19, he enlisted and was sent overseas in 1941. As mentioned, he was in the D-Day Invasion, where he became instrumental in capturing a German Hanomag half-track.

Freeing Zwolle

In 1945, he and one of his best friends were tasked to scout the town of Zwolle. They were also tasked to warn the local Dutch resistance to take cover as there would be a heavy artillery attack the next morning, and they wanted to make sure no civilians would be harmed.

Léo Major at the age of 23.

Léo and his buddy, Willy Arseneault, set off for the town, but a German roadblock immediately caught them, and unfortunately, the German’s killed Willy. He was able to kill his assailant before he died, and Leo used the fallen soldier’s machine gun to kill two of the German soldiers while the others ran off. At this point, Léo had two choices: Go back and report what happened to his friend or move forward and carry on with his mission to inform the Dutch about the upcoming attack. He chose none as he decided to go rogue and spread fear of false news to his enemies.

The Québécois Rambo

First, he captured a German driver and ordered him to drive him into a bar in Zwolle. There, he found a German officer and informed him of an upcoming massive Canadian attack. He then took the risk of letting his German hostage go with his weapon, who immediately fled. As the rumors quickly spread, he made his gossip more believable by randomly throwing grenades throughout the town where he knew no civilians would be harmed. He did this to give the Nazis an impression that the town was indeed being attacked. He also fired bursts from his machine gun. At one point, he had an encounter with eight Germans. Despite being outnumbered, he killed four of them while the rest runoff. He didn’t stop there as he also lit the Nazi’s headquarters on fire.

Léo’s one-man terror tactics convinced the Germans that the war-ready Canadian forces were attacking. Before dawn, hundreds of Germans fled away from the city.

Some Dutch citizens helped him retrieve Willy’s body, and he returned to report to his unit that there were almost no Nazi troops in the city.

The sign for avenue Léo Major (Leo Majorlaan) in the city of Zwolle in the Netherlands. Panel named in honor of Léo Major, the liberator of Zwolle, on April 14, 1945. JmajorCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The next day, the Canadian forces entered the now enemy-free town of Zwolle. They awarded Léo his first Distinguished Conduct Medal. He received his second one from his participation in the Korean War(Yeah, one-eyed Leo was in the Korea War too). He and his team of snipers took a hill from Chinese Communist soldiers and held it for three days. When he died in 2008, Zwolle named a street after him in honor of what he did to liberate them.

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