In May of 1973, Winlock welcomed a hometown hero with Christmas in May. Major Edward (Ed) Leonard was in the Vietnam war and was also a Prisoner of War (POW) for 4 years and 8 months. Now, the Winlock Historical Museum has been fortunate to receive and display many of the articles, pictures and other memorabilia of that day.
It was May 31, 1968, Ed Leonard was a pilot, he was flying a propeller driven Skyraider. He enjoyed flying missions. He enlisted one more time; this was his final few months. He was expected home within 8 weeks when his plane was shot down over Laos. It was then that Ed became a Prisoner of War. He was actually held captive in Hanoi, North Vietnam. Ed, serving 13 months at his time of capture, had already been awarded several metals. He was decorated with two Silver Stars, three times with the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart. He was in the Air Force, but he was our hero.
Ed Leonard was not on any list of POWs; his name had been omitted. Then there was a list of seven men who were not on the original list, Ed was one of them, he was coming home. Ed returned to the states on March 27, 1973 at Clark Air Force Base.
Tommy Thompson, President of the Winlock Historical Museum wrote about his experience that day. He stated, "My memories of Eddie Leonard's homecoming are fond ones that come wrapped in a shroud of nostalgia. It happened near the end of my 4th grade year, and being all of 11 years old I'm sure I didn't
understand the real significance of the efforts our townsfolk went through to welcome him home. I do remember that it was cool to be in the herd of kids heading uptown on a Friday afternoon instead of being stuck inside the old elementary school. A feeling better than seeing the film projector being wheeled into the classroom. I knew we'd be goofing off all afternoon. And an airman by the name of Eddie Leonard was the reason."
As students in 1973, we knew it was something important for us to be let out of school. Tommy Thompson explains how most of us felt that day, he stated, "I had a vague understanding that he was a POW in Vietnam. I had a full understanding that when asked what it was that he missed most about home was Christmas. What kid couldn't understand that?"
Winlock was different at that time, Tommy continued, "Back then downtown Winlock was a bustling town, and all the storefronts were full. But the transformation that came about for Christmas created an almost magical atmosphere. The High School Art Dept. would paint all the storefront windows with snowy Christmas themes. The sparkly garland banners that spelled out Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays strung across the streets and came to life at night with the colorful glow of Christmas Lights. And even more Christmas lights at the stores. What's not to miss?"
Also in those days, there was a family feel to Winlock, it was not going to be a small event. Tommy Thompson stated, "So that's what our town did. We created Christmas in May. But took it a step further. What good is a parade without a band? Mount St. Helens High School (aka Winlock High School). The Marching Band led the parade wearing Santa hats and playing Christmas music. And we all gathered in a parking lot where the bank sits now, a podium at the south end where speeches were made by people a 4th grader didn't know and probably didn't pay attention to anyway. It was only later in life that I could grasp just how important that day was. Not just for Eddie Leonard but for our community as well. Winlock really did transform itself that day to welcome home one of its own. But that's how we've always operated here in Winlock. We take care of our own. We always have. When bad things happen to good people we always seem to rally together to help out. I've seen it happen many times. It is times like these that give us our sense of belonging to this community."
I was also a student who was able to attend the event, so I thought I would share as well. Days before, many decorated their homes for Christmas, it was truly a community transformed for a hero's welcome. I also remember being in the gravel lot as speeches were given. I was shocked at how many camera crews were there to capture the moment. The students were in front, some of us had our parents with us. I remember how excited my mom, Diana Hoffman, was about Ed Leonard coming home. The city was filled to the brim, people came out in droves to watch our hero be the Grand Marshall of that day. I also remember the people, everyone was excited to see Ed. It was a day that I have not seen since, a hero's welcome.
After the war, Ed Leonard became an attorney and resided in Ilwaco. He eventually became the Mayor of Ilwaco, serving from 2002-2006. He was a true public servant in so many ways. He was the type of man who was humble, he had been a POW and he knew what others had gone through. Ed passed away a few years ago on Veterans Day at the age of 76. What an incredible life and person.
The Winlock Historical Museum started in 1996. The addition of the Ed Leonard memorial in the museum is absolutely worth the trip to the museum. I highly recommend a trip to the museum as there are many things about the history of the city.