Larry Pearce can only wonder if the story his stepfather told him about outfoxing the Germans in World War II had something to do with Leo D. Monteil receiving the Bronze Star during the Rhineland campaign in Germany.

Larry Pearce can only wonder if the story his stepfather told him about outfoxing the Germans in World War II had something to do with Leo D. Monteil receiving the Bronze Star during the Rhineland campaign in Germany.

Still wondering, he says, because his stepfather, who died Jan. 7, 1997, at age 91 never told his family about the medal he received more than 65 years ago as an armorer in the 118th Infantry Division.

“We think that when he came out of the service, he might have given it to his mother,” Larry says, “because we couldn’t find it anywhere, and he never talked about it.”

Larry believes that’s a good possibility since Leo didn’t marry his mother, Doris, until Sept. 2, 1949 – some four years after his discharge at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., as a 38-year-old private first class.

Larry, though, is resigned to the fact that he and his 96-year-old mother will never know for sure what Leo did to earn the Bronze Star, because all the military service records stored in the Veterans Administration Building in St. Louis – including Leo’s – were destroyed in a fire in the late 1940s.

Though there is no way to prove it, Larry believes Leo played an important part in routing the Germans at a roadblock in the Rhineland.

“I like to think he got (the medal) for his actions at the roadblock, and that his lieutenant recommended him,” he says, then adds: “He saved a lot of lives.”

The “roadblock” and the “lieutenant” are prominent elements in the story that Larry’s aging stepfather told him as an octogenarian that may shed light on what Leo D. Monteil did to earn the Bronze Star, which is awarded for “heroic or meritorious achievement or service.”

Why Leo broke his silence after all these years and shared a part of his military life with Larry – a 17-year Independence resident – isn’t known.

Perhaps wanting to share a never-before-told story before his failing memory deteriorated further, Leo related how a much younger lieutenant came to him while his platoon was bivouacked in a small German town and sought his counsel, which he sometimes did when he faced a problem.

On this occasion, he sought Leo’s advice on where to set up a roadblock to thwart marauding Germans who had been raiding nearby towns on motorcycles with machine-guns mounted on the sidecars.

Knowing the machine-guns were stationary and could not be elevated, Leo took the officer to the edge of town, where there was a sloping hill on one side of the road and a high wall and buildings on the other side.

The perfect site for a roadblock and an ambush, he advised the lieutenant, explaining that with his troops dug in on the hillside, they could fire down on the approaching Germans, who couldn’t elevate their guns, and prevent them from entering the town.

And that’s exactly what happened.

“The Germans came in that night, were pushed back and didn’t get in,” he says.

Larry, though, never thought about that story again, he says, until his mother went into an assisted living unit last year in an Independence nursing home.

When he applied for VA benefits for his mom at the Sugar Creek office, he was told he had to have Leo’s service record.

But all he had with him was a tiny piece of coated paper, folded in half and too small to read. On one side was a copy of Leo’s discharge record. On the other side was a copy of his enlisted record.

After the VA clerk enlarged the card, Leo’s “secret” military life unfolded as Larry read his stepfather’s service record for the first time.

He learned such things as: Leo was 35 years old when he was drafted in 1942, took basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, served in Company M of the 118th Infantry Division and was promoted to Pfc. while in Europe.

Nothing Larry had seen on Leo’s record took him by surprise. Nothing, that is, until he read Leo was the recipient of the Bronze Star. Needless to say, Larry was flabbergasted, as was his family.

 Larry is sure of one thing: “...(Leo) got it because it was on his record.” However, no living family members had ever seen it.

Wanting his mother to have her husband’s medal, Larry requested a replacement and received one about two or three weeks later. Inscribed on the back was: “Leo D. Monteil” and “HEROIC MERITORIOUS ACHIEVEMENT.”

The coveted medal now has a permanent home, not in a shadowbox, but on the person of Leo’s widow, Doris Monteil.

Referring to his mother as “one of the last of the greatest generation,” Larry says she’s easy to find in a group of women at the nursing home, because she’s the only one with a Bronze Star medal pinned on her sweater.

“I wanted to honor (Leo) by getting that medal for my mother,” he says “ ... Then when she got it, I was so tickled that I pinned it on her sweater right over her heart.”

Larry, who retired 18 years ago from the U.S. Postal Service as an illustrator, has nothing but fond memories of his stepdad, who, “for all practical purposeswas my dad,” he says. “My original father was only a father in name.”

Larry remembers Leo as being “quite a bass fisherman” who spent his summers in Minnesota fishing for top-water bass.

He was also a good storyteller, spinning yarns about his hobo days, when he bummed around the West in boxcars with one of his brothers after graduating from De La Salle High School in Kansas City.

“He told me stories about being in Las Vegas (in the ‘20s) when the main street there was a dirt road,” Larry recalls.

As a teenager, the thing he remembered most about Leo was how clean he was.

“When he and Mom were married, he would take a shower every morning,” he recalls, noting his obsession for cleanliness most likely stems from his military service when he couldn’t bathe daily and change clothing while in the field.

“I guess they were in a lot of muck and mud over there,” Larry says.

Keeping his body clean wasn’t Leo’s only priority. He also put on clean socks and powdered his feet every day – a habit he started in the Army to avoid getting trench feet.

“(Leo) said he tried to keep his feet dry and change his socks all the time. He was very emphatic about that, Larry recalls, and it carried over into his life later on.”

Larry says the story of his mother and stepdad isn’t “real flashy.” But it’s a story about real life and real people and what they went through.

“They are the last of the greatest generation.”