Vice President Spiro Agnew awards the Medal of Honor to Robert R. Leisy posthumously on December 16, 1971.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 12/28/2014
  • Essay 10951
On December 16, 1971, Vice President Spiro Agnew (1918-1996) awards the Medal of Honor to Robert R. Leisy (1945-1969) posthumously. Leisy's parents, Arthur A. Leisy (1905-1984) and Josephine Leisy (1908-1995), accept the award. Robert Leisy joined the army following graduation from the University of Washington. After completing officer candidate school, in September 1969, Second Lieutenant Leisy went to Vietnam as a platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division. On December 2, 1969, he was leading a reconnaissance mission that came under withering fire from a well-entrenched enemy. While under fire from the front and flanks, Lieutenant Leisy advanced toward the enemy position with his radioman. Looking up into the trees, he spotted a sniper about to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at them. Without hesitation Lieutenant Leisy stepped in front of his radioman to protect him from the grenade. Leisy took the full force of the grenade explosion. Despite his wounds, he refused aid until other seriously wounded were cared for. He died later that day.

Early Life in Seattle

Robert R. Leisy was born on March 1, 1945, in Stockton, California. In 1950 the family moved to Seattle. They lived on Magnolia Bluff on 37th Avenue W. Robert attended Briarcliff Elementary School and Catharine Blaine Junior High School. In high school he played on the football team and was active in school organizations. He graduated from Queen Anne High School in 1963. He attended one year at the University of Washington before joining the Marine Corps Reserve with boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. He returned to the University of Washington and graduated in 1968 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science.

In March 1968, he joined the army and had his initial training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He completed officer candidate school at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was commissioned a second lieutenant on February 1, 1969. Lieutenant Leisy continued his training by becoming airborne qualified. He underwent additional training with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He went to Vietnam in September 1969. His letters home to his parents were upbeat, but to friends, his view of the war had changed. He went to Vietnam convinced that the war was right, but came to question it. He worried over the young men he led and would prove his concern with his life.

A Vietnam War Hero

Second Lieutenant Leisy was assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division in the Phuoc Long Province, Republic of Vietnam, as a platoon leader. On December 2, 1969, he was leading a reconnaissance mission. One of his teams came under intense enemy fire from a well-entrenched bunker complex. Second Lieutenant Leisy sent the remainder of the platoon to rescue the advanced patrol element. His platoon then came under withering fire from the front and their flanks. Lieutenant Leisy moved from soldier to soldier, helping his troops to effectively engage the enemy.

While directing his troops, he came under intense enemy fire as he ran from one defender to the next. With his radio operator, he advanced toward the enemy complex and spotted an enemy sniper in a tree ready to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at them. With no time to escape or yell a warning, Lieutenant Leisy, well aware of the consequences, shielded the radio operator with his body. He took the full force of the grenade and in doing so, saved the radio operator and nearby soldiers.

Despite mortal wounds, he continued directing the attack on the enemy. Medics quickly arrived, but Leisy refused aid until other seriously wounded soldiers were treated. His gallantry encouraged his platoon to overcome the enemy position. He died later that day.

Remembering Robert R. Leisy

Second Lieutenant Robert R. Leisy gave his life for others. For his valor and sacrifice, he was recommended for the Medal of Honor. For more than 20 years after the war, the radioman, overwhelmed by Leisy's sacrifice, could not talk about the event.

On December 12, 1969, Robert Leisy was buried in Seattle's Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park in the veterans' memorial area. On December 16, 1971, Vice President Spiro Agnew awarded him the Medal of Honor posthumously. The award ceremony was held in the old Executive Office Building, and his parents, Arthur and Josephine Leisy, received the award for their son.

On September 23, 1972, a building was dedicated to him at the Army Reserve Center, Fort Lawton, Seattle, not far from his home. The Army Reserve Center, including Leisy Hall, closed in February 2012. The Medal of Honor monument at the University of Washington includes him as one of eight university graduates awarded the Medal of Honor.

Sources: Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); Robert R. Leisy Papers, University of Washington Library, Special Collections; "Rites Pending for 2nd Lt. Robert R. Leisy," The Seattle Daily Times, December 9, 1969, p. 49; "Seattleite who Gave Life Awarded Top Medal," Ibid., December 17, 1971; "Enlistment Recruiting Has Been a Disaster," Ibid., September 24, 1972, p. 62.

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