Vietnam veteran receives Purple Heart after 50-plus years

Tribune Chronicle / Andy Gray Maj. Shaun Robinson pins a Purple Heart onto Leo H. Connelly, who received the medal Saturday at the Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission in Warren, more than 50 years after being wounded in Vietnam. Looking on is Connelly’s wife, Doreen. They are from Boardman.

WARREN — After a Vietnamese soldier cut Army Specialist Four Leo H. Connelly’s arm and stabbed him in the stomach during Operation Billings on June 18, 1967, Connelly carried a fellow wounded soldier to safety, had his wounds patched by a medic and returned to the fight.

“In the heat of the battle, the last thing he was thinking about was the wounds he had suffered,” said Herm Breuer, director of the Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission. “He was continuing his mission, as we’re all trained to do.”

Nearly 52 years later, Connelly received the Purple Heart he earned that day in a ceremony Saturday at the commission’s downtown office.

“This is very humbling,” Connelly said after the ceremony. “It closes out that chapter in my life. It was a void that was there for a long time.”

Connelly, 71, of Boardman, said he was treated on the battlefield for his wounds, so there was no record of the injury, which led to the initial delay.

“There’s not a stenographer in the jungle,” he said. “It don’t work that way.”

He applied several years ago for the medal, but it wasn’t approved. Breuer suggested he reapply and helped craft the document.

“That man is a Picasso at what he does,” Connelly said of Breuer and the application he prepared.

Connelly thanked both Breuer and U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland, for their efforts in helping him get the recognition. His wife, Doreen, said, when the news came, “I’ve never seen my husband cry, but he broke. It’s a great honor for him.”

Before pinning the medal on Connelly’s lapel, Maj. Shaun Robinson from Camp Garfield said, “There’s not a single person who serves in the military that doesn’t recognize the sacrifice it took to get this.”

Ryan said Connelly has continued his public service after his military career, and he doesn’t hesitate to call — multiple times — when he wants to accomplish something in the Mahoning Valley.

Before the Purple Heart ceremony, Ryan recognized 13 students from his district who have been nominated to attend the U.S. military academies, and those students stayed for Connelly’s recognition.

“This guy deserves every acknowledgment he gets,” Ryan told the crowd. “If you’re looking for an example, there’s not a lot of heroes, not a lot of role models anymore. Consider yourself blessed to be here this morning. He’s one of the good ones.”