Alan Leonard: The man behind the WWI Doughboy stories

Published 10:00 pm Friday, July 7, 2017

Tryon native Alan Leonard can trace the Lankford side of his family back to 1770, when they settled in what is now Tryon. His grandfather Robert Leonard came to Tryon from England in 1902, built many local golf courses, and designed the Tryon Country Club, where he served as that facility’s first golf pro.

“I joke that I live about one quarter mile from where I was born,” Leonard noted.

Joking aside, those who have read Leonard’s recent columns on Polk County’s Doughboys in the Tryon Daily Bulletin know that this retired Air Force lieutenant colonel has a keen interest in military history, and brings lots of knowledge, research, and writing ability to back it up.

In his role as a member of the Henderson County Honor Guard, Leonard spoke about the Doughboy monument at the flag raising held in Columbus July 4. (Photo by Mark Schmerling)

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Leonard is also a Civil War re-enactor (where he exercises his enthusiastic drumming), a retired district prosecutor, and a member of the Henderson County Honor Guard. He also dislikes drawing attention to himself. His actions, however, speak volumes.

Leonard graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 1970, enlisted in the Air Force, and served in Vietnam. In the Air Force, he logged over 5,000 hours of service as a navigator on C-130 transport planes, concentrating on getting people and cargo safely from Point A to Point B. He retired from the military in 1998, after serving twice in the Persian Gulf, and in Bosnia.

After graduating from law school at UNC Chapel Hill, Leonard served as district attorney in the 12-county district that includes Polk County, and served five years in that capacity in the five-county 29th Judicial District that includes Polk County, being elected to three terms.

Leonard notes, “A district attorney has such power over people’s lives . . . you’re right in public view. You have to be totally ethical and fair. To my knowledge I never did anything wrong. I had no second thoughts. I tried to make everything center on victims and their families, and on people impacted by crimes, including the criminals themselves.”

A courtroom photograph from 2000 (Leonard retired from being a state prosecutor in 2005) shows Leonard in a demonstrative stance. He said he was known as being passionate in what he did, adding that if he didn’t appear to believe in his case, why would a judge or jury?

“When I could, I tried to help people. If you look closely, you find a lot of good in people.”

Among other current responsibilities, Leonard serves as a police attorney, advising various levels of law enforcement on making ethical and legal decisions in their actions.

“You don’t want to give the wrong advice that hurts anyone,” he reflected.

In his honor guard duties, Leonard plays the bugle. He estimates he has played Taps at some 650 military funerals over the past 12 years.

“It’s a privilege to do that”, he said. “The veterans deserve it; so do their families.”

Participating as a Civil War re-enactor in the 26th North Carolina Regiment is another way Leonard continues his military involvement. It’s also a way to honor his great-grandfather, who served in that regiment in the Civil War.

“I’m interested in history,” Leonard stated, “Civil War history, military history. It gives you a direct connection to what they (Civil War veterans) saw and felt.”

Leonard also participated in a re-enactment of the battle of New Bern, N.C., where his third great-uncle—Major Carmichael—was killed.

As if Leonard hasn’t been busy enough, he also served for three years on the board of Pacolet Area Conservancy.

Leonard credits his late wife Susan for much of his success. She came to Tryon in 1976, when they married. This past May, she died of cancer.

“Susan was as responsible as I was for anything I did. I give her credit for everything I was able to do.”

Regarding the Doughboy statue in Columbus, Leonard says, “We need to rediscover the history of that monument and those whose names are on it. That statue is melting away from the effects of acid rain. I think something needs to be done by its 100th anniversary.”