Local veteran reflects on WWII service, heroes who gave ultimate sacrifice

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Memorial Day is a day to remember the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice while fighting for our freedom.

Air Force veteran Anthony Leo knows that freedom doesn’t come free.

He nearly died several times flying 50 combat missions in World War II — all by the time he was 19 years old.

“I thank God that I was not killed,” he said. “I thank God that I survived.”

And so does his wife, Genevieve. They’ve been married now for 73 years. Leo was up in the air while she was on the ground, picking parts for the Air Force’s B-25s.

“When I say my prayers, he’s the first one I pray for, and then I include my kids, my grandchildren and whoever needs prayers,” she said.

And they believe someone was praying for Leo during one mission when enemy aircraft forced his B-24 to crash land on an island off Yugoslavia.

“Some of the missions we were on, we were pretty shot up,” said Leo, recalling one mission where they counted 200 holes in a plane.

More than seven decades later, he still carries around a reminder of those years.

“This is what happens when they shoot at us,” he said, holding a fragment of wreckage. “The bomb comes up and just scatters everywhere, all over, and these pieces hit the plane.”

Like many in this great generation, Leo didn’t talk about the war for many years. He went on with life, raising five children.

It wasn’t until recently when his children started asking that he started talking.

“I’ve seen planes exploding, B-24s in front of us, just direct hits,” he said. “You know, this was horrible. I was lucky I got back.”

Leo got back in perfect condition, just like his old uniform — complete with the Air Force Medal of Honor.

“When I wear my Air Force hat, people come up to me and say thank you for my service,” he said.

But Leo doesn’t like the attention. He certainly wouldn’t call himself a hero, he said.

“I would say the real heroes are the ones that went down and died,” Leo said “Those were the real heroes. Not me.”

But if you ask the woman who married him when they were just 22 years old, she disagrees.

“He’s my hero,” Genevieve said.

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