Leo J “Pop” Powers MOH

b. 05/04/1909 Anselmo, Nebraska. d. 16/07/1967 Butte, Montana.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 03/02/1944 Hill 175, NW of Cassino, Italy.

Leo J Powers MOH

Powers was born in the tiny Nebraska farm town of Anselmo on April 5, 1909. His parents died at a young age and that Powers only had eight years of formal schooling at a local district school, not unusual for that time. When Powers was drafted into the Army in September 1942 at Alder Gulch, Mont., he was originally classified as not being physically fit for combat due to his dentures.

Considering that the average age of an Army soldier in World War II was 26, it is not surprising that the older-by-comparison and denture-wearing Powers was given the nickname “Pop.” Despite his foot problems and his training as a mechanic, Powers was sent to the front lines with the 133rd Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division. This may have been due to the fierce fighting that saw the three battalions of the 133rd suffer over 50 percent casualties while engaged in the Battle of Monte Cassino from January 24 to February 21, 1944. Considering the cold wet winter weather of Italy at that time of year, it seems likely that Powers had trench foot, which was a common ailment during the Italian campaign.

No matter his background or training, February 3, 1944 found Powers in the right place at the right time to make a difference. On that day, Powers’ company was assigned to seize the heavily defended Hill 175. Belying its tactical importance in defending Monte Cassino, the Germans had emplaced around 50 troops, supported by pillbox emplaced machine guns. The German were supported by mortar fire that was able to suppress Powers and his fellow soldiers. Unable to move forward and with casualties mounting, Powers crawled toward the pillboxes. Using hand grenades and in full view of the enemy, Powers managed to destroy all three enemy pillboxes single-handedly. After destroying the last of the pillboxes, Powers took the surrender of four wounded Germans while unarmed. This solo mission took Powers along the length of the company front. In his Medal of Honor citation, Powers is credited with having, “single-handedly broken the backbone of this heavily defended and strategic enemy position.”

Powers was presented his Medal of Honor almost a year later by President Franklin D. Roosevelt Washington, D.C., on on January 10, 1945. The Medal of Honor ceremony, which was preceded by two days of sightseeing in D.C. with his family, was quoted by Powers as being, “the biggest three day thrill of my life.” By the end of World War II, Powers had reached the rank of sergeant and appeared on the Columbia Broadcasting System radio program, Report to the Nation. Like so many other World War II service members, Powers returned home and resumed his life, in this case sheep farming.



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. On 3 February 1944, this soldier’s company was assigned the mission of capturing Hill 175, the key enemy strongpoint northwest of Cassino, Italy. The enemy, estimated to be at least 50 in strength, supported by machine guns emplaced in three pillboxes and mortar fire from behind the hill, was able to pin the attackers down and inflict eight casualties. The company was unable to advance, but Pfc. Powers, a rifleman in one of the assault platoons, on his own initiative and in the face of terrific fire, crawled forward to assault one of the enemy pillboxes which he had spotted. Armed with two hand grenades and well aware that if the enemy should see him it would mean almost certain death, Pfc. Powers crawled up the hill to within 15 yards of the enemy pillbox. Then standing upright in full view of the enemy gunners in order to throw his grenade into the small opening in the roof, he tossed a grenade into the pillbox. At this close, the grenade entered the pillbox, killed two of the occupants and three or four more fled the position, probably wounded. This enemy gun silenced, the center of the line was able to move forward again, but almost immediately came under machine-gun fire from a second pillbox on the left flank. Pfc. Powers, however, had located this pillbox, and crawled toward it, with absolutely no cover if the enemy should see him. Raising himself in full view of the enemy gunners about 15 feet from the pillbox, Pfc. Powers threw his grenade into the pillbox, silencing the gun, killing another German, and probably wounding three or four more who fled. Pfc. Powers, still acting on his own initiative, commenced crawling toward the third enemy pillbox in the face of heavy machine-pistol and machine-gun fire. Skillfully availing himself of meager cover and concealment, Pfc. Powers crawled up to within 10 yards of this pillbox, fully exposed himself to the enemy gunners, stood upright, and tossed the two grenades into the small opening in the roof of the pillbox. His grenades killed two of the enemy and four more, all wounded, came out and surrendered to Pfc. Powers, who was now unarmed. Pfc. Powers had worked his way over the entire company front, and against tremendous odds had singlehandedly broken the backbone of this heavily defended and strategic enemy position, and enabled his regiment to advance into the city of Cassino. Pfc. Powers’ fighting determination and intrepidity in battle exemplify the highest traditions of the U.S. Armed Forces.



BLOCK 17, LOT 30, GRAVE 4.