WWII Veteran Shares His Story
During the Memorial Day ceremony held on the Stewart Manor Country Club lawn on Saturday, May 29, one had to wonder who received the bigger honor: the veterans or those gathered around them. Political dignitaries, local clergy and residents came together to remember and honor all veterans, both living and deceased, who have made tremendous personal sacrifices to secure our freedom. But it was the ceremony’s keynote speaker, retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Leonard Jindra, who left attendees awestruck and honored to be in his presence.
The ceremony opened with a procession led by the Stewart Manor Fire Department Color Guard. Angela Powers sang the national anthem, the Rev. John Shepherd McKenzie of St. James Lutheran Church gave the invocation, and Father Rudy Pesongco of the Church of St. Anne ended the ceremony with a benediction. Master of ceremonies and former U.S. Marine Daniel Grogan welcomed all who were present and introduced keynoter Leonard Jindra, a Floral Park resident.
In 1938, Jindra immigrated to the U.S. when he was 16 years old. Just three years later, the U.S. was attacked and Jindra volunteered to enlist in the Army but was rejected due to a hernia. Earning less than $20 a week, he worked to pay for room and board. He deprived himself of many things and maintained his focus, which was to serve his country. Once he had more than $300 saved, he had surgery to correct his hernia, was reclassified and accepted into the U.S. Army.
Jindra went on to become one of 25,000 ranks positioned for the D-Day invasion. “We trained as infantrymen to save our lives and the lives of our comrades, destroy the enemy, and capture and hold on to territory which was won by hardship, sweat, blood and the lives of our comrades,” Jindra shared.
The Army Division, the 29th, was one of the first to land on Omaha Beach. During training, Jindra and his comrades were told the Air Force and Navy “would create craters on the beaches so we would have places to dive into if needed, and that they would destroy most of the mines and hedgehogs in the water and on the beaches. But when we landed, there were no craters at all, expect shallow ones from the German artillery, and the obstacles and mines were not removed,” Jindra recounted. “As the landing crafts neared the beach … we jumped into the water. Some GIs got hit right there and drowned, some were hit in the landing craft, some drowned because the water was deep and their heavy packs loaded them down, some were hit on the beach, and shells were bursting all over. When we reached the beach there were no craters, only wounded and dead bodies all over.”
With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, amidst flying bullets and landmines, the soldiers of 29th Division persevered and remained in combat until World War II ended in Europe, living up to their motto: “The spirit that never knew defeat.”
Jindra’s speech moved all who were present, from Legislator Vincent T. Muscarella, who spoke at the ceremony, to the youngest attendees, Boy Scout Troop 134, who lowered the flag.
“It was very moving to hear Mr. Jindra describe his personal experience serving our country in World War II and to see our village residents join together to remember the wonderful men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” said Stewart Manor trustee Robert Fabio.
With Memorial Day marking the unofficial start to summer, beach traffic and beach erosion won’t seem like much of a hardship compared with the conditions on Mr. Jindra’s beach.