The Incredible Story of First Sergeant Leonard Alfred Funk Jr.
First Sergeant Leonard Alfred Funk Jr. (August 27, 1916 – November 20, 1992) was a United States Army Medal of Honor recipient and one of the most decorated soldiers and paratroopers of World War II. He served with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (508th PIR) during the most pivotal campaigns in the European theater of World War II. After jumping into Normandy on D-Day with the 82nd Airborne Division, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross during Operation Market Garden and the Medal of Honor during the Battle of the Bulge. Additionally, Funk earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. To learn more about First Sergeant Funk’s incredible bravery, continue reading.
D-Day- Silver Star
Funk was born on August 27, 1916, in Braddock Township, Pennsylvania and joined the U.S. Army in 1941 at the age of 25. The following year, after the United States entered World War II, he volunteered to be a paratrooper. After completing his training, he was assigned to Company ‘C’ of the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (508th PIR), then stationed in Camp Blanding, Florida. During much of the war, Funk was stationed in England and didn’t see action until June 6, 1944 — D-Day, the largest land, air and sea invasion in history.
On that day, the small unit he commanded landed nearly 40 miles inland. They fought for several days before breaking through enemy lines to rejoin their regiments closer to the coast. Everyone in Funk’s unit survived that mission, and he earned a Silver Star for his leadership. Later he took part in Operation Market Garden in September, and the Battle of the Bulge in December.
Operation Market Garden- Distinguished Service Cross
During Operation Market Garden, Funk led a three-man patrol against a German battery of three 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns that were targeting incoming Allied gliders. He attacked the German soldiers providing security for the battery, then led the assault that killed 20 members of the gun crew and wounded many others.
The gliders landed, and Funk’s assault possibly saved hundreds of lives. For that astounding feat of heroism, he received the Distinguished Service Cross for “initiative, outstanding bravery, and strong personal leadership despite overwhelming enemy superiority in both numbers and firepower,” according to his citation.
Battle of the Bulge- Medal of Honor
On January 29, 1945, Funk was serving as the first sergeant of his company in Holzheim, Belgium when he encountered a group of more than 80 German soldiers, most of whom had previously been captured by American forces but, with the help of a German patrol, had managed to overwhelm their guards.
A German officer, poking a pistol into Funk’s stomach, ordered him to surrender. He pretended to comply with the order, slowly unslinging his submachine gun from his shoulder. But instead of giving it up, Funk quickly fired, emptying a full magazine into the German officer and his counterparts, all the while shouting to his American comrades to seize the enemy’s weapons. Within minutes, 21 Germans were killed, many more were wounded and the rest were captured.
Despite being outnumbered and facing certain death, Funk’s actions were directly responsible for the recapture of a force that was much larger than his own. His actions also allowed the other units of Company C to continue their attack plans unfettered.
After the War
Funk received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 5, 1945, at a ceremony at the White House. He’s one of the most decorated paratroopers of World War II, having also earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters.
Funk left the Army after the war and went on to work for the Veterans Administration in the Pittsburgh area. He and his wife, Gertrude, had two daughters.
Funk retired from the VA in 1972 and lived in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, until his death on Nov. 20, 1992. First Sergeant Funk is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
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