The 58,257th Casualty
Leonard Sharp died on Saturday, March 24th, 2007 at his home near Fresno, California. Its not likely you’ll ever see Leonard’s name etched in the Vietnam veterans’ wall in Washington, D.C. However, Leonard Carl Sharp was the 58,257th person killed by friendly fire in the Republic of Vietnam.
Leonard served multiple tours in Vietnam beginning in 1966 and ending in 1971 when he seriously wounded in combat. It was not his first Purple Heart.
Leonard was an infantryman … a “Ground Pounder”, a “Grunt”. His specialty was Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP). The acronym was pronounced “Lurp”. The men referred to themselves as “Lurps” as both a badge of honor … and a warning. “Lurps” were very dangerous men.
Lightly armed, a Lurp patrol would number a dozen men or less. They would spend days tracking enemy soldiers … sometimes to watch; sometimes to kill. Leonard was a sniper.
His military career ended in a vicious firefight in 1971. Leonard was nearly blinded by shrapnel from an enemy hand-grenade.
He spent months recovering at V-A hospitals in the San Francisco Bay
Leonard stayed in California where he ultimately became a television cameraman.
Leonard rarely talked about Vietnam, but I know those demons ruled his life. He suffered terribly from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome which included long bouts of sleeplessness. He developed incapacitating migraine headaches. He had cancer … twice. Even his blood revolted against him after he contracted hepatitis following one of his many surgeries.
He finally moved to California’s Central Valley where he felt at more ease in a landscape that reminded him of his Texas roots.
But Vietnam still lurked. Ultimately the war would kill him.
Leonard died because of Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant sprayed from U-S aircraft. Leonard was soaked in it as he patrolled the jungle. It took over 30-years before the government conceded Leonard was poisoned by his own country. At the end of 2006, he was given a little cash and a monthly disability check.
He bought a small mobile home. He died in it 90-days later.
Because the U-S Army gave him a job when no one else would, Leonard Sharp became a warrior by necessity … not inclination.
He was a giant man with a booming laugh and one of the gentlest souls I’ve ever known. When Leonard gave you hug … you were HUGGED. But if you looked very hard, there lurked immense, unfathomable sadness in his eyes.
Leonard Carl Sharp died in 2007 as the result of ‘friendly fire’ in the Republic of Vietnam sometime between 1966 and 1971. Services have been held; his ashes are home in Texas. He was 58. I was honored to be his friend.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.