Canadian War Hero: Leo Major

Updated: Jun 4, 2019

A French-Canadian who saw action in the Normandy landings, Leo began his military career by capturing an armored vehicle full of communications equipment, providing the Allies with invaluable intelligence. He then single-handedly took out a group of elite Nazi SS troops, but lost his left eye after a dying enemy managed to ignite a phosphorus grenade. When a doctor tried to send him home, Leo reportedly replied that he only needed one eye to aim. He later broke several bones in his back, but again refused to be evacuated, returning to the battlefield to participate in the liberation of Holland.

During an early-morning reconnaissance mission at the Battle of the Scheldt, he spotted a German contingent in a village, most of them asleep. A typical soldier would have returned to report to a superior, but for a guy like Leo this was an opportunity. He captured the German commander, and after killing a few soldiers, the entire company of 93 men surrendered to him. He then escorted them back to the Allied lines.

But Leo’s greatest feat was still to come.

In April 1945, the Canadians were tasked with liberating the Dutch city of Zwolle. Their plan was to bombard the German positions with artillery until they surrendered. Leo was once again sent on a reconnaissance mission, this time with a friend. Realizing that an artillery barrage would also kill innocent civilians, Leo and his buddy Willie decided to liberate the city all by themselves. Unfortunately, around midnight, Willie was shot and killed. Enraged, Leo grabbed his friend’s weapon and gunned down two Germans, with the others fleeing in terror. He then proceeded to capture a different German vehicle and forced the driver to bring him to an enemy officer at a nearby tavern. Leo then informed the surprised officer that the town was surrounded by an overwhelming Canadian force and that an attack was imminent, before strolling out of the tavern and disappearing into the night.

The next step was to convince the Germans that what he had told the officer was true. Leo spent the rest of the night racing around the town, gunning down Nazis and throwing grenades like a one-man army. After seeing their comrades gunned down by a mad Canadian in an eyepatch, most enemy soldiers made the smart choice and surrendered. As the night wore on, Leo kept appearing at the Allied lines with groups of confused German prisoners—before returning to the city. His final feat was to clear out the local SS headquarters. By 4:00 AM, the Germans had abandoned the town. The artillery attack was canceled, the city saved by a single man.

Leo received numerous medals for his deeds in World War II, and earned even more in Korea. Leo Major died in 2008, but his memory lives on in Zwolle, where he is regarded as a hero.

(On to Victory: The Canadian Liberation of the Netherlands, March 23 - May 5, 1945 by Mark Zuehlke)

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