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Useful Notes / Léo Major

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With a jaw like that, how couldn't he be badass?

Corporal Léo Major (January 23, 1921 – October 12, 2008) was a French-Canadian soldier of the Régiment de la Chaudière, and was one of only three Canadian recipients of the Distinguished Conduct Medal (second only to the Victoria Cross), the only Canadian to receive it twice (a bar on the DCM), and the only Allied soldier to be awarded two DCMs in two different wars.

In 1940, at age 19, he enlisted in the Canadian Army in the Régiment de la Chaudière, and was sent overseas in 1941, gravitating towards the scout platoon. He finally saw combat on D-Day, in which he captured a Sd.Kfz. 251 halftrack during a recconaissance mission, which contained German communitication equipment and documents. Days later, he encountered an SS patrol and killed four soldiers. However, one of them managed to set off a phosphorus grenade which caused him to lose an eye. He refused to be evacuated, and successfully argued that he only needed one eye to sight a rifle, and said his eyepatch made him "look like a pirate", and was allowed to continue as a scout.

During the Battle of the Scheldt, he single-handedly captured 93 German soldiers in Zeeland, in southern Netherlands. During a lone reconnaissance mission on a cold and rainy day, he spotted two German soldiers by a dike. He said to himself, "I am frozen and wet because of you so you will pay." He captured the first, then tried to use him as bait to capture the other. The second tried to shoot Major, but Major killed him. He then captured their commanding officer and forced him to surrender, and the garrison then surrendered themselves after Major killed three more German soldiers. SS troops in a nearby village saw him escorting over a hundred prisoners of war, and started firing on their own troops, injuring several and killing seven. Major ignored this and continued to the Canadian lines, then ordered a Canadian tank to fire on the SS troops.

He marched into camp with almost a hundred POWs, and was chosen for a DCM. He declined, because, according to him, General Montgomery (who would be presenting the award) was "incompetent" and not in a position to award medals.

In February 1945, he was helping a chaplain load corpses from a destroyed Tiger tank onto a Bren Carrier. As they drove away, the carrier ran over a mine, throwing Major into the air, then, according to him, hitting the ground hard on his back as he landed. When he was woken up by two medics, he only asked if the chaplain was okay. They didn't answer, then loaded him onto a truck to a field hospital 30 miles away, stopping every fifteen minutes to administer morphine. A doctor there told him his back was broken in three places and and had broken both ankles and three ribs. He was also told the war was over for him. After a week, he escaped, catching a ride on a Jeep to Nijmegen, where he knew a family, and stayed for almost a month before returing to his regiment in March.

In early April, the Régiment de la Chaudière was nearing the city of Zwolle, where German resistance was particularly strong. The commander asked for two volunteers to recon the city and German force for an artillery battalion before it opened fire at 6 AM. Major and his friend Willie Arseneault volunteered for it. The two decided to capture the city to keep it intact, even though they were only supposed to report on the German strength and meet up with the Dutch Resistance.

Around midnight, Willie Arseneault was killed when a sentry heard them near a bunker and fired at the noise. Enraged, Major took Arseneault's rifle and killed two of the Germans, but the rest fled the bunker in a truck, leaving behind a munitions dump. There, he took a captured machine gun, his and Arseneault's rifles, and a pouch filled with grenades, and entered the city near Sassenport. He ambushed a staff car and captured the driver whom he took to a bar where an officer was drinking, and found both could speak French, then told them about the bombardment. As a sign of good faith, he returned the officer's pistol. Major then ran through the town firing the machine gun and throwing grenades, and making so much racket it fooled the Germans into thinking his regiment was storming the city. At least ten times, he captured groups of eight to ten German soldiers, escorted them out of the city to French-Canadian troops nearby, then continue the assault. He also had to break into civilians' houses to rest four times during the night. He eventually found the Gestapo HQ and set it on fire. He then found the SS HQ and got into a firefight with eight high ranking SS officers. He killed four and the rest fled. He noticed two of the dead officers were disguised as Dutch Resistance members, and realized that the Resistance was being, or was about to be infiltrated by the Nazis. By 4:30, he realized the Germans had retreated and Zwolle was free. He took Arseneault to a farm until reinforcements could carry him away, and was back at camp by 9 AM. For his actions, he received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

In Korea, Major was awarded a second DCM for capturing and holding Hill 355. The hill was controlled by the US Third Infantry Division when the 64th Chinese Army opened up an artillery barrage, and pushed back the Americans with the 190th 191st Divisions. The Chinese soon after occupied nearby Hill 227, virtually surrounding the Americans. Lt. Col. Dextraze, commander of the 2nd Battalion Royal 22nd Regiment, sent in a scout squad led by Léo Major, who silently crept up the hill and opened fire on the Chinese, panicking them. By midnight, Major and his squad had retaken the hill. An hour later, however, the two divisions counterattacked, and Major was ordered to retreat. He refused, and held off the Chinese through the night, even as his own mortar fire was practically raining down on him. For three days, he and his squad held off numerous counter attacks until reinforcements arrived. For his actions, he was awarded a bar to his DCM.