By William K. Alcorn
On Feb. 1, 1968, Army Spec. 4 Leo H. Connelly, serving as crew chief on an unarmed helicopter, was instrumental in delivering supplies to ground forces and evacuating wounded soldiers while under heavy enemy fire.
For his heroic actions, he was awarded the Air Medal with “V” Device in 1967. Because of this, on May 6, Connelly, of Boardman, will be inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor.
The ceremony is set for 11:30 a.m. at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
“I’m humbled,” Connelly said of his induction.
“It’s a great honor. I’m very happy for my family and my fellow and sister vets who have come home. It finally closes the door on the Vietnam chapter of my life and my reasoning for going over there. To know the good you did over there was a question mark for a lot of years. This is very humbling and rewarding,” Connelly said.
But Connelly said he hasn’t always been a hero.
“There is the Leo in combat, the Leo that made a mistake, and Leo the family guy,” he said.
Some 20 years after Vietnam, Connelly was convicted of attempted burglary for which he served seven years in prison, from 1990 to 1997, and 12 years on parole.
“I made a mistake. If I could go back and kick someone’s butt [his own], I would,” he said.
Connelly, a recovering alcoholic for 30 years, said he has done a complete turnaround and is giving back to the community.
Part of that give-back is as a mentor for the Veterans Court created by Youngstown Municipal Judge Robert P. Milich. Under the Veterans Court, nonviolent veteran offenders are offered a rehabilitation program in lieu of jail. If they don’t complete the program, they must serve the sentence.
As a mentor, Connelly, a life-member of the Mahoning County Disabled American Veterans Chapter 2 and AMVETS Chapter 44, makes sure his veteran keeps appointments and whatever else the court requires.
“I point him in the way he has to go. I am very much involved in veterans’ getting help,” said Connelly, who also is chaplain of the Mahoning County United Veterans Council.
Connelly, 63, was born in Youngstown’s Brier Hill area, one of six children of Leo Sr. and Anita Zizzo Connelly. He has three sisters: Alberta Fusselman and Grace Krall, both of Austintown, and Leah Schnellbach of North Jackson; and two brothers, Paul in Massachusetts and John Conley of Columbus, who served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and, after the war, was a member of the Presidential Honor Guard.
A 1966 graduate of Chaney High School, Connelly is married to the former Doreen Golubich, a 1971 graduate of North High School. He has two sons, Arthur of Vineland, N.J., and Anthony of Boardman, a student at Youngstown State University; and two grandchildren, Tiffany and Michael.
Connelly was drafted into the Army Aug. 6, 1966, and shipped to Vietnam in March 1967 and assigned to the 1st Infantry Division as a foot soldier.
About four months later, he was helping a wounded soldier to the helicopter to be evacuated when the ship’s gunner was killed. He took over the machine gun and cleared the area of enemy troops. He finished the war as a member of 1st Infantry helicopter outfit, called “The Clowns.”
“The pilot asked me if I wanted to be his gunner. I said. ‘Yes if you can get me out of the jungle,’ not realizing that the life expectancy of a helicopter gunner was less than a foot soldier,” he said.
During his year in Vietnam, he fought in three major battles: Counteroffensives Phases Two and Three, and the Tet Counteroffensive. He was highly decorated, receiving the Army Commendation Medals for Valor, the Combat Infantry Badge and Air Crewmans Wings, among many others. He finished his tour in March 1968 and was discharged Aug. 6, 1968.
Leo H. Connelly of Boardman, a Vietnam War Army veteran, will be inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor based on his heroic actions as a member of a helicopter crew that won him the Air Medal with “V” Device on Feb. 1, 1968. In part, Connelly’s Air Medal citation reads:
Specialist Connelly was serving as crew chief on an unarmed helicopter when a call was monitored from a heavily engaged friendly ground force requesting evacuation of several seriously wounded men.
When the helicopter landed, Specialist Connelly ignored the hail of hostile rocket- propelled grenade rounds being directed at his ship and quickly accomplished the task of unloading the much needed supplies and loading the casualties aboard the aircraft.
With complete disregard for his personal safety, he made numerous return flights to the battle area to deliver ammunition, food and water to the engaged infantry and armor elements. His courageous and determined efforts were instrumental in the saving of many friendly lives and contributed significantly to the successful outcome of the hostile encounter.
Source: U.S. Army