Chad Caswell is well on his way to becoming a respected sculptor in his own right. Chad was contacted by the City of McMinville after seeing the article about him in the Battleground, WA newspaper, “The Reflector“. At the time, the city was assembling a team to commission a monument honoring Leonard DeWitt and all the Oregon Army National Guard soldiers that fought in WWII, who “distinguished themselves in battle”, but were never awarded the Medal of Honor. Despite the nomination by his commanders, it is thought General Douglas MacArthur denied the nomination because DeWitt was not enlisted.

leonarddewittjpg-58c7fefd5e860fdbThe story behind DeWitt’s earning of the nomination for this esteemed medal  is dramatic and colorful. DeWitt was stationed in New Guinea, as a Communications Officer in the 41st Division of the U.S. Army. Working in the center of the camp when the first explosion was heard, DeWitt ran over to the battle location to help fight off the attackers, but found himself quite alone. Understanding that the Japanese Commander was ordering his troops to gather at the base of the hill in order to fire at the Americans, DeWitt found a Tommy Gun and a Browning Automatic  Rifle and began firing at the Japanese. After shooting into the darkness and using all his ammunition, DeWitt was left with 2 grenades, which he strategically flung into the hole. Unfortunately, in an attempt to avoid a reciprocal grenade, De Witt accidentally lost his balance and slid down the hill, landing between 2 Japanese soldiers. With the only weapon he had–a bayonet used to open rations, he stabbed one of the soldiers. Left with only his helmet, DeWitt managed to finish off the second soldier with a mighty blow. In an act of frustration that the American troops of mainly new recruits had left him on his own, DeWitt threw his helmet into the hole, scaring the remaining Japanese and sending them running. DeWitt suspects they mistook his helmet for a “satchel charge”Chad and retreated.

DeWitt did receive the Distinguished Service Cross. This is the Army’s second highest honor (after the Medal of Honor), and is awarded to U.S. and Foreign military personnel and civilians who have displayed extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States, in military operations involving conflict with a foreign force, or while serving with a friendly nation engaged in armed conflict against a force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

Oregon National Guard historian Lt. Col. Alisha Hamel, is assisting DeWitt with a new nomination for the Medal of Honor. The new nomination was submitted to Senator Jeff Merkley’s office, who then forwarded it to the Secretary of the Army for vetting.

State Representative, Jim Weidner is spearheading the effort to honor Leonard DeWitt and all the Oregonian reservists just like him, with a monument to their service and heroism. When Representative Weidener realized that Leonard is in his district, he got a bill (HJM17) through the Oregon Legislature, asking Congress and the President to request this Medal on Leonard’s behalf. Senator Ron Wyden proclaimed that he, Governor Kitzhaber and Senator Merkeley were going to do all they can to push this through Congress.  Chad had the honor of meeting Leonard DeWitt and his wife, Joanne, along with Representative Weidner at the State Capitol in Salem. At that time DeWitt and his wife expressed their delight that the monument will be created.

bernini-davidInspired by Bernini’s David and Goliath statue, Chad’s vision for this monument will reflect the story behind the honor, but also DeWitt’s call to action and bravery. In Chad’s interpretation, DeWitt holds his now infamous helmet, in a stance reminiscent of running into battle, determined, and with a sense of accomplishment once the battle is won. To quote Chad, “A true hero is someone who steps up to fight when no one else will.”

The sculpture will be installed outside, in McMinville’s city square. DeWitt is 91 and live with his wife in McMinville, OR.

To learn more a out the Congressional Medal of Honor, visit wwwcmohs.org.

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