By William K. Alcorn
Leo H. Connelly Jr., highly decorated Army Vietnam War veteran, is finally receiving the medal he values most, the Purple Heart, more than 51 years after hand-to-hand combat in which he was stabbed twice by a Viet Cong soldier.
Connelly, of Boardman, previously inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor, was wounded during Operation Billings on June 18, 1967, while attempting to rescue an American soldier lying on the ground next to a Viet Cong soldier.
Believing the Viet Cong soldier was dead, Connelly reached down to pick up the American when the Viet Cong turned and cut Connelly’s left arm.
“As I drew my knife, he stabbed me in the side before I cut his throat,” said Connelly, who at the time was 19, was 6 feet tall, and weighed about 147 pounds.
After carrying the American to a helicopter for transport to medical care, Connelly said he took his M60 machine gun and some ammo and went back to the tree line to continue fighting.
On his way, Connelly ran into a medic who saw the blood and put butterfly stitches and bandages on his wounds.
“There was no record of it because the medic patched me up in the field and I didn’t seek additional medical treatment at the Red Cross, where it would have been documented. However, we were able to find two guys who were there and remembered the bandage and the blood,” Connelly said.
“I still have the scars,” he said.
Connelly graduated from Chaney High School on June 10, 1966, and was drafted into the Army on Aug. 6, 1966. He served in Vietnam from March 27, 1967, to March 27, 1968, and was discharged from active duty Aug. 6, 1968.
Connelly, active in area and state veterans affairs, will be presented his coveted Purple Heart at 11 a.m. today by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, during a ceremony at the Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission, 253 E. Market St., Warren.
Before the ceremony, Ryan, who was instrumental in helping getting Connelly’s Purple Heart verified, described Connelly as the “epitome of courage, honor and integrity.”
“There are no amount of awards or accolades that can show how truly grateful we are for the sacrifice he made for our country during the Vietnam War. We are forever indebted,” said Ryan.
“Here at home, Leo has gone above and beyond with his work and commitment to help veterans in Youngstown and all across Ohio. It’s this type of exceptional service that truly defines American patriotism – and Leo is second to none,” Ryan said.
“It’s why he has served on the Mahoning County Veteran Services Commission, been inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor, honored as the Mahoning County United Veterans Council’s Veteran of the Year in 2011, and named the Second Brigade Motorcycle Club of Ohio Honoree of the Year in 2012,” Ryan said.
“This Purple Heart is long overdue. I am thankful that Leo is finally receiving the honor and recognition he deserves,” said Ryan.
“Leo is deserving of the Purple Heart,” said local attorney Carl Nunziato, a Vietnam War veteran whose legs were blown off in combat.
“He earned it in hand-to-hand combat with an enemy soldier and saved an American soldier’s life. I made him show me his scars,” said Nunziato with a laugh.
“I’ve known him to be 100 percent devoted to helping veterans. I wrote a letter of support for him,” Nunziato said.
“I was blessed to make it home. God had something for me to do. Everything I do is from the heart, with the goal to help all veterans receive fair treatment and the many benefits promised to them. Nothing makes me happier than when I can help a veteran return to a productive life,” said Connelly.
“I’m very humbled to receive the Purple Heart and thankful to Rep. Ryan for his work and helping me get the medal. It’s something I’ve pursued for many years,” Connelly said.
“You never forget the more than 58,000 American soldiers who died in Vietnam,” he said.