It’s been said that war changes people. Those that go away are changed. Those that stay home are changed. And sometimes, the greatest changes happen after the warrior returns home. On this 70th anniversary of World War II, we take a look at one such soldier. Alan Leith went away a boy and, like many others, he came home a troubled man.
Alan was born in Wisconsin and graduated from high school in Wausau, Wisconsin. When he was 18, the draft was imposed, so he enlisted in the Army Air Corps before he could be drafted. July 6, 1942, Alan entered the US Military and was shipped to St. Louis, Missouri, for basic training. After basic training, he was sent to an aeronautical university in Chicago to study mechanics. Alan had always been good with his hands, taking classes in high school and working on vehicles outside of class.
After graduation, the Army Air Corps moved Alan around a bit, taking him to Bainbridge, Georgia, and then to California for a whole 12 days before he was brought back to New York and put on a ship, the USS Argentina, bound for Europe. Because of the threat of German U-Boats, the trip took 18 days before Alan and his shipmates finally landed in Liverpool, England. He was assigned to an airbase at Warrington, England, out of which flew B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers. While Alan’s training qualified him to work on the B-17, unfortunately, because of extreme casualties, there were more mechanics than planes. So, Alan, along with others, was assigned to different units while in England. For a while, he was part of the military police.
In 1944, Alan was moved to southern England. The 91st Chemical Mortar Battalion had experienced 50% casualties in previous battles and needed reinforcements. Alan was trained on how to fire a mortar and joined the Battalion. The Battalion was attached to Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s Third Army. And it was with that group that Alan endured the Ardennes Counteroffensive, more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge, the largest battle fought on the Western Front in Europe during World War II.
What Alan remembers most about that pivotal battle fought in December and January of 1944 and 1945 is when Patton’s Third Army (with the 91st attached) made its way to Bastogne, Belgium. According to Alan, so many had died, piles of bodies were everywhere. Some had frozen to death in the snow because of injuries. “It was the worst thing I’d ever imagined,” says Alan.
Alan was discharged on Oct. 21, 1945. He returned to Wisconsin and did “furnace work.” But he wasn’t able to leave the war behind; he was plagued by nightmares of what he had witnessed near Bastogne. Those nightmares followed Alan until 1952 when he gave his life over to God. “God promises He will give us a new life and that’s what he did,” says Alan. It was then that Alan was truly changed. Five years later, Alan was ordained.
After the war, Alan was married and had seven children. After he was ordained, he pastored a few churches, but mainly he had a home repair business. His boys worked with him and one now has his own similar business in Jacksonville, Florida.
Almost 94, Alan is now married to Margaret, a women he first met back in Wisconsin when they were both still fairly newly married with young children. They met up again in Ft. Lauderdale 15–20 years ago after they had both been widowed. Margaret has her own five children. One daughter lives in Cherry Lake, Florida, and the two couples are very close. Alan and Margaret especially enjoy spending time with her daughter’s two children. It was with this daughter’s help that Alan and Margaret found Advent Christian Village, where they now live.
It’s been said that war changes people. Despite an initial time of torment, we’re glad the war changed Alan Leith for the better by leading him to the Lord. It’s because of people like Alan that America and its allies still enjoy their freedoms … both here on Earth and in the life to come.