The Jefferson County Commissioners on Tuesday honored LeRoy Barnts of Diller as the July Veteran of the Month.  LeRoy E. Barnts was drafted into the U. S. Army April 10, 1944.  After his military physical in Omaha, Nebraska he was sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.  He was one of only eight in his unit who could read and write so was immediately promoted from private to private first class.  Since he was a capable equipment operator he was assigned a 2½ T truck and hauled garbage for several weeks.  At the time drivers were required to pick up a trip ticket at the beginning of their duty day and return a completed trip ticket at the end of the day.  While turning a trip ticket one day a captain requested that LeRoy get a trip ticket and drive him to Post Headquarters.  LeRoy missed his regular duty the next morning and was told he would be driving officers around along with driving 18T artillery equipment for several weeks.

After a short furlough LeRoy was sent to Fort Ord, California for artillery training until Christmas, 1944.  He was next shipped to New Guinea and then arrived by landing barge at Leyte in the Philippines where he was assigned to guard duty.  His second barge landing experience was at Luzon in the Philippines where the main war was taking place.  Being assigned to the front lines to the 757th Field Artillery Battalion gave LeRoy first hand experience to the worst war has to offer.  His unit was shelled night and day by the Japanese.  Once while firing heavy artillery a shell exploded.  The shock of the explosion was monumental and apparently damaged the nerves surrounding LeRoy’s heart.  He cannot recall what happened to his fellow soldiers, but when he regained consciousness he knew he had lost total hearing in his left ear and could not recline, sleep or rest in any way because of having the “shakes.”  In spite of all this adversity he never missed a firing mission.  LeRoy was also assigned to drive dozers pulling artillery equipment across rivers to new positions.  Once he experienced dozers sinking out of sight where explosives had created deep holes in otherwise shallow rivers.   By keying on land marks LeRoy was able to make safe crossings.  He was also given quinine to cure malaria and given medication to help with the “shakes” before preparing for the invasion of Japan.  Thanks to the atomic bomb he and his fellow soldiers were spared the invasion.

On October 21, 1945, LeRoy re-enlisted in the Army at Fort Riley, Kansas and was mis-placed in an infantry unit, not an artillery unit, while in Virginia.  He was sent from Virginia to New Jersey and finally shipped out of New York to Germany.  In Germany he found his true calling as a Tec 5 in charge of a motor pool where he gained the reputation of being able to fix about anything mechanical. 

After eight months and 21 days of continental service and nine months and 19 days of foreign service LeRoy returned home with a severely infected right arm which eventually healed.  And after 62 years of pain he has had two heart surgeries that have vastly improved his health.  He now lives alone in Diller, Nebraska, at 95 years of age, with the support of his family, and ventures out to his shop most days to create art out of metal objects.

The Jefferson County Commissioners honors and thanks a new veteran on the first Tuesday of the month as an ongoing recognition effort.


Photo provided by Nathan Heuer of the Fairbury Journal News.