Rudulph L. ‘Les’ Leutzinger served with the U.S. Navy in World War II.

After enlisting in the Navy in 1944, Les approached Presiding Patriarch Elbert A. Smith in Lamoni, Iowa, for a blessing. They prayed that Les would not be harmed and to this day Les says that is what kept him safe in body and spirit. Les was aboard the USS Valencia, AKA81 working as the ship’s electronic technician and had responsibility for maintenance of all the electronic gear on the ship; transmitters, receivers, radar and sonar gear.

The sonar was unable to distinguish an armed explosive charge anchored in the bay near the surface from any of the guide buoys and was useless as far as directing where the safe passage was. But Les says his blessing protected him and his men aboard that ship.

Les was soon in Nagoya, Japan, and saw complete destruction and rubble everywhere. Nagoya had been the object of two napalm fire bombings prior to his arrival. All roads were filled with pieces of bricks about four inches square, standing in depth up to one’s knees. At first there were no signs of people, but as time went on pairs of eyes were seen peering out from behind objects and in a few days commerce was taking place like it was a mall. The medium of exchange was cartons of cigarettes that soldiers had been issued aboard ship.

The Mitsubishi Aircraft factory where they manufactured the Zeros was standing as a concrete burnt out shell.

After WWII, Les returned to work for the Douglas Aircraft Company as a stress analyst in the structures department of the C-74 aircraft. He soon transferred to McDonnell Aircraft Co. in St. Louis, which qualified him for a teaching position in aircraft structures at Iowa State College in its Aeronautical Engineering Department. He later found himself in Independence and married a nurse from the Independence Hospital named Mary Ward. He attended school in the summer months earning a masters degree in Engineering Mechanics. Les went to work at the Michigan Research Center, which would lead him to Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City and he and Mary moved to Independence to live and raise their seven children. He also taught at KU, Texas A& M, and Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy before settling down to work at the University of Kansas City. He served as chairman of the Engineering Program at UKC-UMKC for 14 years.

Les’ military history may be view in Veterans’ Hall in the Independence Parks and Recreation Truman Memorial Building, 416 W. Maple.

– This is part of a weekly feature on local veterans submitted by Helen Matson, volunteer program director for the city of Independence