Leonard A. Funk Jr: One of the Most Decorated Paratroopers in WWII, MoH Recipient

Army 1st Sgt. Leonard Funk, poses with Shorty, an 8-month-old puppy, attached to his parachute equipment, during World War II. The pup belonged to a fellow soldier and went with him — successfully — on the jump. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army / Public Domain)

On September 5 1945 Leonard Funk was awarded the United States’ highest award, the Medal of Honor. He earned the medal during action earlier that year where he faced off against a huge number of German troops – and won. In addition to his Medal of Honor, Funk also received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.

This spectacular list of awards made Funk one of the most decorated American soldiers of WWII.

Leonard Alfred Funk Jr. was born on August 27, 1916, in Braddock Township, Pennsylvania, and was raised near Pittsburgh. He joined the US Army in June 1941 at the age of 21, a few months before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into the war.

In 1942 he volunteered for the relatively new paratroopers, being assigned to Company C of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (508th PIR). Funk and the regiment were relocated to England in 1943 in preparation for D-Day and merged with the 82nd Airborne Division.

As a paratrooper, he would participate in some of the United States’ most famous battles of the war.

Funk in action

Leonard A Funk Jr
1st Sgt. Leonard A. Funk, Jr. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army / Wikipedia / Public Domain)

Funk’s first taste of combat came on June 6, 1944: D-Day. After landing in France he and his unit fought their way toward the coast to link up with their fellow paratroopers. Miraculously all of the men in his unit survived. For this Funk received the Silver Star Medal.

After D-Day Funks’s next major action was his involvement in Operation Market Garden in September 1944.

Operation Market Garden
Parachutes open overhead as waves of paratroops land in Holland during operations by the 1st Allied Airborne Army. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army / Wikipedia / Public Domain)

After this came the Battle of the Bulge, where he would earn the Medal of Honor.

By January 29 1945 Funk and his unit had been locked in bitter fighting against the Germans for weeks, but they had managed to advance 15 miles through a snowstorm. The maneuver was made so they could mount an attack on the town of Holzheim, which was held by the Germans.

Funk became the company’s executive officer after the previous one was lost. He knew he had too few men to successfully defeat the Germans in Holzheim, but as he was now leading the unit he bolstered their numbers with a platoon full of usually-noncombatant clerks.

The ragtag group attacked the town while under a savage wall of machine guns and artillery fire. In a short period of time though they had cleared 15 houses without any casualties. Another American unit joined the fight, and together they brought the town under their control.

Medal of Honor

Leonard A Funk Medal Of Honor Award
President Harry S. Truman places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Army 1 Sgt. Leonard Funk, Sept. 5, 1945. (Photo Credit: Department of Defense / Public Domain)

80 Germans were captured and placed under guard by four troops, while the rest of the Americans doubled back through the town to ensure it was completely empty of Germans. Meanwhile, the four guards were overpowered by the German prisoners, who immediately started making preparations to attack the Americans.

Around this time Funk returned, and walked straight into the group of Germans who were no longer his prisoners of war. A German officer pointed a loaded weapon at Funk and demanded him to surrender.

Pretending to obey the officer, Funk slowly lowered his submachine gun. However, in a flash, he pulled the trigger and mowed down the officer and a number of others. He screamed for his unit to disarm the Germans.

21 Germans were killed and the rest captured in mere moments, thanks to Funk’s extremely daring and brave move. A simple weapon malfunction or a slip could have cost him his life.

On September 5 1945 Funk was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman at the White House. With his assortment of wartime awards, Funk is one of the most decorated WWII paratroopers.

After leaving the Army Funk continued working with soldiers – with the Veterans Administration in the Pittsburgh area. He had two daughters with his wife Gertrude. On November 20 1992 the war hero passed away at the age of 76. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetary.