A Salute to Leo Major DCM & Bar
Corporal Léo Major served with the Régiment de la Chaudière which landed on the beaches during the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. Right from the start Leo showed the makings of a legend.
Upon landing he went straight out for a reconnaissance patrol and single-handedly commandeered a German armored vehicle. In the days to come he encountered his first of many battle injuries when a phosphorus bomb blinded his eye during a fight with a Germans patrol. Léo managed to stop four enemy soldiers but lost total use of his eye. Leadership wanted to send Léo home but he refused, insisting that he only needed the sight of one eye to continue his duties as a sniper and reconnaissance scout.
In 1944 he captured a German commander and forced the surrender of 93 soldiers during The Battle of the Scheldt in southern Holland.
During the Rhineland Offensive Léo Major was again wounded when his vehicle hit a land mine. He escaped from the hospital and stayed with a family in Nijmegen while recovering from his wounds. Afterwards he rejoined his unit in the liberation of the Northern parts of the Netherlands. On April 14, 1945 Major single-handedly liberated the town of Zwolle by setting off grenades and tricking the Germans with the impression that the Canadian Army had them surrounded. For this action, he was awarded the DCM.
At the end of the war he returned to Canada and worked as a pipe fitter. In 1950 during the Korean War, Léo was asked by a Canadian commander to join the Royal 22e Régiment and held the rank of Corporal. He was honored with his second award for bravery (Bar to DCM) after leading a sniper team to capture a key target, Hill 355, and holding it for three days until reinforcements arrived.
Corporal Léo Major was the only Canadian soldier to twice receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Commonwealth's second highest award for gallantry in action.
He was the only Allied soldier to be awarded the DCM for two different wars.
Léo spent the rest of his life living in Montreal. On April 14, 2005, exactly 60 years after the liberation of the town, he became an honour citizen of the city of Zwolle, Netherlands. Over the years Léo visited Zwolle many times and was regarded as a hero with distinction. Léo Major passed on October 12th, 2008 at the age of 87. Lest We Forget.