Capt. Leonard Mc. Gee

After a couple of visits to LTC. Robert G. Cole’s grave I decided to adopt a grave for myself. I requested a grave and at the end of March 2007 I got the adoption papers. I had to sit down, because it was a special moment for me, my adoption grave. Someone I would take care of…. I adopted the grave of Capt. Leonard J. McGee, 194th GIR, 17th Airborne Division.
A paratrooper, ‘’Thunder from Heaven’’. GIR refers to Gliders, who were active at every large operation. Horsa’s, Waco’s and Hamilcars were strapped behind C-47 Planes to carry equipment, vehicles and personal.

Well, at least that was something. I thought there were enough sites about the airborne. I didn’t found anything about Leonard, just some random things about the 17th Airborne, so it was time to call in the troops. If I visited his grave I would like to know how he looked like and what his story was. I began with sending a mail to Mrs. Quaedvlieg, she knows everything. She became a good friend of mine. After that I knew where Leonard was born and where he came from, I also e-mailed the Library of his hometown and some other offices there. Then it I had to wait because usually they won’t let you know anything. Patience, a lot of patience…. The first reaction came pretty soon, Mr Joe Larissey, I thank him very much for the picture of Leonard, now I knew how he looked. With the other information I got from Mr. Larissey I continued my search together with Mr. Terry Wirick. I’m very grateful to both of these gentlemen, for all they’ve done for me. They were both very interested. Thank you all very much!!!

Leonard was born on may 1, 1917, in Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania. He was de youngest in a family with four children. His parents were Irish but they were both born in Pennsylvania. His father was Bernard F. McGee, born in 1876, his mom was Ellen G. McGee, born in 1878.
They had a grocery. His sisters were called Mary, Ellen and Rita. Ellen became a nun, Sister Mary John.

After the LaSalle College, where Leonard studied, and passed cum-laude, he was admitted to the Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. Leonard became a doctor, a surgeon. And he was only 25 or 26 years when he graduated.
In the nine months he worked at the Nazareth Hospital, before the war interrupted, he met Mabel Doyle. A operation nurse from Nova Scotia, Canada. They married and got a son, Terry.

But Dr. McGee got a call from the army. He joined the new 194th GIR, which was attached to the 17th Airborne Division. Making 5 jumps he became a paratrooper.
28th august 1944 they arrive in England. Together with the 101st and the 82nd the 17th airborne (the triple AAA) joined the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps. Leonard was proud to serve the 17th. During operation Market Garden the 17th was still in training and kept in reserve. They first saw action during the Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes, Belgium). Temporarily under Patton’s III army. During the night they were dropped over Reims, and relieved the 28th INF. DIV. on Jan 3rd 1945 at Morhet. There was some intense fighting from 4 till 9 January, the Battle of Dead Man’s Ridge. The freed several small Belgian villages, and relieved the 11th Armoured DIV.
There were many dead and wounded among the 194th because of German mortar attacks.

During this period, Capt Leonard saved many lives in terrible environments. He carried out operations on many young men. Officially, because he was a combat-surgeon, he didn’t have to take part in the fights. But still he managed to capture 2 German soldiers.

The 17th returned to France at 11 Feb. 1945, and from there back to Belgium on 21 March to prepare for Operation Varsity, the Allied assault over the Rhine river in Germany, the Ruhr-area.
On March 24 it began, over 21.000 men loaded into 1572 planes (C-47’s and C-46’s) and 1326 gliders to take part in the last Airborne assault. It took more than 3 hours for the fleet to pass. The landings started at 10.00 in the morning. They landed in heavy crossfire from the Germans, Anti-Air guns shot several C-47’s and mainly C-46’s from the sky. Gliders crashed everywhere.

And so Capt. McGee fall in battle, on the first day of Varsity, his Glider crashed.
A unnecessary death for someone who could’ve saved many more lives. Leonard was awarded with two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. He was an excellent student during his college years and had many friends. He was gentle, not a noisy fellow. I know this from my contact with Brother Joe, of LaSalle College who told me some things and let me read a letter from Leonard. Leonard also was very religious, he was always carrying a rosary. In his hometown a wing of the Nazareth hospital, and a part of the Thomas Jefferson Medical College is named after him. Thanks to my investigation I’ve made quite and uproar in Bristol Borough, Leonard’s hometown. Mr Mike Harris is going to add Leonard’s name (and the names of 6 other soldiers from Bristol) to a monument for their fallen heroes of WWII, he’s going to get his own star. I’m quite proud of that, now he will always be remembered in his hometown.

On this side of the ocean I’ll keep doing my best for Leonard. The adoption foundation of Margraten appointed me his grave and now I’m able to tell his story.
It’s an honour for me to say: ‘’Capt. McGee, yes, I know him’’. I now know how he looked like and what his story was, thanks to his son Terry who never knew his father. He and his mother Mabel, who is now 90 years old, are very grateful to me that I take care of his fathers grave. As long as possible I will keep attending his grave. Capt. Leonard J. McGee, a Combat-Surgeon, a Doctor, who never had the chance to return to his home after the war, to his family.
And begin a practice of his own, this future was taken from him.

A true Hero.

Bronze Starv- , Wilco Vermeer


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