Leonard Swartz – Pensacola, Florida
United States Army - Airborne
Leonard Swartz first flew with Veterans Flight in 2014 when we did the first formation flights for the Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show. Unlike most of our veterans, Leonard has more takeoffs than landings. Many of his landings are in a different type of air vehicle (parachute) that most pilots diligently try to avoid having to use. He is joining us again this year even though Veterans Flight (and the FAA) still won’t grant his request to parachute onto Pensacola Beach. Unlike his last parachute jumps in 1945, we don’t think anyone would shoot at him, but he still has to stay in the Stearman even though some Stearman landings can be scarier than a parachute jump.
Leonard was born and spent his childhood years in New York City. His family moved to Pensacola when he was 14, and a year later he lied about his age to enlist in the Florida National Guard. Leonard was either a natural for the military or the Florida Guard was desperate, as he became the Guard’s youngest platoon leader at age 18.
During World War II he was accepted into the Army Air Corps for pilot training, but was transferred to the infantry when the Army had an excess of pilot candidates. After completing basic infantry training at Camp Blanding, Florida, he went to Fort Benning, Georgia for parachute training. He then deployed to the Pacific with the 11rd Airborne Division.
On 7 November 1944 the 11th Airborne sailed from New Guinea. Four days later on 11 November 1944, the division landed at Leyte Beach, Philippine Islands. This was the beginning of three months of bitter fighting during which the division cleared the crucial mountain pass between Burauen and Ormoc and killed more than 5,700 Japanese.
Having accomplished its mission, the division was withdrawn from the front lines in January 1945. After a short rest the division was re-equipped and on 26 January 1945, stormed the beach at Nasgubu, Luzon. In only five days it fought its way to Manila, a distance of 69 miles, where it recaptured Fort McKinley, Clark Field and Nichols Field. For this achievement, almost every unit within the division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
The paratroopers then moved south from Manila. In a daring land, sea and air attack behind enemy lines, they raided the Japanese prison camp at Los Banos and successfully rescued 2,147 prisoners. After freeing the prisoners, the division attacked Japanese strongholds at Ternate, Macolod and Malepunyo and cleared the Japanese from southern Luzon.
During the Luzon campaign Leonard participated in combat parachute jumps at Los Banos and Aparri. The operation at Aparri in Northern Luzon was a combined parachute and glider operation that was the largest glider operation of the Pacific war. It sealed the Cagavan Valley and led to the annihilation of the remaining Japanese.
During his service Leonard earned the Army Parachute and Combat Infantry Badges. He also received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. After the war ended he remained in Japan as a member of the occupation forces for 18 months, during which he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
After returning to the United States he studied architecture at the University of Florida before returning to Pensacola where he went into the retail clothing business. He owned four stores, including “Sam’s” and “Leonard’s Body & Sole” – which were Pensacola landmarks for many years. He and his wife, Doreen, reside in Pensacola.