It’s the early 1940s and the world is at war.
Just after turning 18, Leon Jack Xanders is drafted to fight for his country.
“It was quite a while ago, I can’t remember much. I only remember the bad parts.”
At 93-years-old, Xanders recalls basic training in Macon, GA and deploying soon after. He took his first steps into France shortly after D-Day.
“The landing barge- I held my gun up like this. I held my gun up above my head. This was in France. Utah Beach in France.The Germans were just a mile or so above the shore. The guys ahead of us had pushed them back.”
The moment that deems him a war hero for the rest of his life happened not long after that.
“I got hit in the Battle of the Bulge. That was the Germans in the Ardennes Forest. The Germans came up behind us, and two of my friends were killed. I got wounded. If it would’ve hit me in the right place it would’ve killed me. But it hit me in the leg.”
Years later, he holds the piece of shrapnel that hit him in the leg, and a Purple Heart.
“Yeah, there’s the piece of metal that hit me,” says Xanders holding a case containing the shard. “If it would’ve hit me in the right place, it would’ve killed me. I told the Lord if I have to get hit, that’s an unusual situation, I told the Lord if I had to get hit, where I wanted to get hit. And that’s where I got hit, now that may sound fictitious but that’s the truth.”
Xanders was raised on a farm during the Great Depression. He says he takes no credit for his accolades.
“I’m not taking no credit for volunteering, I’m not a hero or anything like that. I just always tried to do what was right you know. I wasn’t trying to make a name for myself. I was just trying to exist.”
He says he just wanted to please his family and make it home to the love of his life.
“I had a person, some older folks at home and I wanted them to be proud of me.”
The Purple Heart recipient though having many moments honoring his life, still remains humble.
“I wasn’t a hero.. I did everything.. If they give me a job.. It didn’t matter if it was sweeping the floors or cleaning the toilets, I did the best job I could. My folks at home. The folks that raised me, said whatever job you get- do the very best you can and that was my policy.”