'Oversight' prevented WWII vet, 92, from receiving Medal of Honor

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. - Leonard DeWitt was recommended for the Medal of Honor for his bravery in World War II more than 70 years ago.

But somehow, the paperwork was overlooked.

"There were a tremendous number of people who did pretty outstanding things and yet after reviewing history of the pacific war in World War II, not one single Medal of Honor was rewarded. And other outfits had dozens of them and it just doesn't make sense," DeWitt said.

DeWitt, 92, fought in the 41st Infantry division of the Army National Guard. He was stationed in the Pacific in New Guinea when one night he was outnumbered by Japanese soldiers who were on the attack. He fought them off by himself using his tommy gun, grenades and his fists.

"These guys trying to come up hand-over-hand," he said. "So I take out my tommy gun. I'm walking back and forth shooting at these characters.

"I couldn't be scared. No, I wasn't scared. In fact, I was just determined I was going to stop those guys. And I knew if I didn't and they got in the perimeter we were done for," he said.

DeWitt says he doesn't want the medal for himself.

"I'm 92 years old. (In) probably another year I'll be in Boot Hill somewhere. I'd like to see the 41st get that," said DeWitt.

The recommendation for the medal was approved by DeWitt's commanding general, but the state Legislature said an "oversight" allowed it to slip through the cracks.

Governor John Kitzhaber next week is expected to sign the House Joint Memorial, which is a letter to the president and Congress requesting they review the recommendation for DeWitt's Medal of Honor.

If DeWitt gets his medal, he says he wants to put it on display in the Oregon Military Museum at Camp Withycombe.