At age 85, Carson resident completes book
August 7, 2008
There is a scene in the World War II book Ray Leone has written in which the protagonist single-handedly captures a column of 25 German troops.
Is this another author who’s watched one too many Rambo movies?
Not at all. It is a Carson City resident who decided to write down the memories of his service during the war as a member of the 38th Army Cavalry Scouts.
But don’t think that Ray Leone intended this to be a heroic epic. He told the story about taking those German prisoners after I asked him why, after all these years, he decided to write about his war experiences.
And he traces it back to that cold January day in 1945.
It was just before daybreak and he was about 100 yards from the rest of his unit, digging a machine gun pit to watch over a dirt road. Then he heard the footsteps of people marching in the half-light … friendly troops, he figured. But when they were close enough, he was alarmed to see they were German troops. He picked up the machine gun, stood up and hollered at them in English to put their hands up. They all did, except for one who dove for cover. Leone yelled for the others to pull him out or he’d start shooting.
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They complied, and he marched the prisoners back to the rest of his unit.
The capture of those German soldiers, he said, wasn’t really all that special in light of the dangers they faced every day.
“That’s pretty common, really,” he said. “I think they were ready to give up anyhow.”
From one of the officers, he took a pistol – a Polish-made Radom 9 mm – that he carried for the rest of the war, and later brought back to the U.S. He gave the pistol to his son last year, who showed it to a gun expert. They wanted to hear how he obtained it and, after listening to his story, encouraged him to write his memoirs to share with his family members so the stories would never be lost.
Now, about a year later, Leone has written a small book – 84 double-spaced pages – of his experiences from when he landed at Omaha Beach three days after D-Day and fought through Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge, to the war’s bitter end. His mechanized cavalry squadron was considered a “bastard” unit, in that its 850 men were attached to other units when they needed reconnaissance help. He was among the first American GIs in Paris after its liberation – a favorite memory – but he also saw dozens of friends fall during the months of fighting.
He was never injured seriously, which was miraculous considering how often they operated behind enemy lines.
“I’ve been bombed, strafed, machine gunned … you name it,” Leone said.
He recalled an incident shortly after the war’s official end when he was part of a motorized column in a Czech town, near where German holdouts were continuing to fight. They had paused, bumper to bumper, when an explosion went off close by. He jumped out of the turret of the armored car he was in and into a burning jeep in the column – loaded with munitions – and drove it to a park farther up the road. When it was far enough away, he dove out of the moving vehicle and behind a tree, only seconds before it burst into an explosion that might have killed several people had he not driven it away from the column. It was an act that earned him a medal.
The years after the war were difficult. “We called it battle fatigue,” he said, recalling how hard it was to return to a normal life. Revisiting the memories during the last year was also difficult sometimes. Occasionally, he had to stop when it became too much.
But he was successful. Leone, 85, a retired geologist, grew up in Duluth, Minn., and has been a resident of Carson City for the past 12 years. He and his wife, Virginia, raised two sons and a daughter and have many grandchildren.
He and his wife remain healthy and active. They hike together a lot, and he still enjoys skiing.
“You have to keep busy and eat well,” he said.
Over the years, he thought about going back to revisit the places in Europe where he had lived life so tenuously. “I’ve thought about it a couple of times, but I said, ‘oh well, it’s a thing of the past.'”
At his age, he says, it’s not likely to happen now.
As for his memoirs, he says he could make it much longer … that’s how sharp his memories remain. He’s been encouraged more than once to have it published as a book, and his son even suggested a name, “In front of the front lines,” which is where he spent much of the war.
• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221, or firstname.lastname@example.org.