May 20, 1895 (Danbury, CT) – April 24, 1919; 23 years old
Last local address: 29 Stuart Avenue, Norwalk
Entered the service on March 29, 1918
Serial number 1687812
Unit: 4th Division, 12th Machine Gun Battalion, Company A

Born to Patrick Joseph Leonard (1863-1920) and Mary Agnes McNulty Leonard (1868-1954). Six sisters, Catherine (1889-1970), Margaret (1890-1970), Susan (1890-1928), Marion (1902-1917), Mildred (1906-1907), and Madeline (1909-1993). Four brothers, Charles (1893-1951), Francis (1897-1916), and John (1898-1975), Walter (1900-1992),

Worked as a letter carrier prior to service.

Diagnosed with “Walking TB.” Returned back to the U.S. on the S.S. Princess Matoika. Further reports indicated he contracted the disease by drinking water poisoned by the Germans. He died in the hospital in West Haven, Connecticut.

From an unknown newspaper found in newspaper clippings in the Norwalk History Room, Norwalk Library

Privates Leonard and Kelley Drink From Poisoned Well in Argonne Forest

   James P. Leonard, son of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick J. Leonard of 29 Stuart Avenue, and James N. Kelley, son of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel W. Kelley of 7 Seaside Place, East Norwalk, have been confined to the base hospital in France after drinking some of the poisoned water left in the Argonne Forest by the retreating German.

   Both local boys left this city some time ago for Camp Devens where they were assigned to the 14th Company, 4th Battalion, 151st Depot Brigade, and were later attached to Company A, 12th Machine Gun Battalion which did such commendable work in the fighting of the Argonne Forest. The two local soldiers were together ever since they left this city, went to the same camp, arrived in France at the same time, and fought side by side in one of the fiercest battles of the entire conflict and were both sent to the same base hospital together after having drank water which had been poisoned by the Huns.

   The word was received in this city in a letter from Private Leonard to his family but stated that neither he nor his friend were seriously affected by the poison. They were on the front line in the Argonne Forest for three weeks and played a glorious part in routing the murderous Huns from their strongly entrenched position in the swamps and marshes of the Forest. While fighting here the local boys stopped for a drink of cool water, and no doubt drank from the first well they came to. This well had been previously poisoned by the Germans to prevent further pursuit by the tireless and fearless Americans. The boys were sent to a base hospital to receive treatment, but according to a letter received by Mrs. Samuel Kelley, it is thought the young men were not confined there for long. The letter was written on November 12, the day after the armistice was signed, and Private Kelley stated that at that time he was enjoying a furlough in Geneva, Switzerland, taking in the much-heralded scenery of the Alps and stated in a casual way that he had slight stomach trouble. The people of the entire city hope to hear definitely that our two brave sons have fully recovered and hope to soon welcome them to their homes.

From an unknown newspaper found in newspaper clippings in the Norwalk History Room, Norwalk Library

Landed in Newport News on Jan. 1 – Suffered Breakdown Resulting From Effects of Shell-Shock and Poisoned Water

Mr. and Mrs. Patrick J. Leonard of 29 Stuart Avenue recently received word that their son, Private James Leonard of the 12th Machine Gun Battalion, 4th Division, A.E.F., had arrived in this country and is now at Base Hospital Number 16 at West Haven, CT. “Jim” as he was known to everyone in the whole city, is recovering from a general breakdown resulting from the effect of poison water he drank in the Argonne Forest and from a slight touch of shell shock. He was among the drafted men to go from Norwalk to Camp Devens, where he was assigned to a machine gun squad. After a short training period, he arrived in France and his first big fight was at Chateau-Thierry from which he emerged unscathed. The engagement at the Besle River found the Norwalk boy in the thick of the fight, and from this front, he went to the Argonne Forest. It was here that the men fought for several days without relief and one night after they had been without water for several hours, Leonard came upon a pool of water that offered a chance to quench his parched throat. He drank the water and when he immediately became seriously ill he learned the pool had been poisoned by the retreating Germans. He was confined to the hospital for some time and was still under the care of the medical corps when he was transported back to the United States. He landed at Newport News on January 1st and at 9:30 in the morning of Tuesday, January 8th, he passed through this city on his way to the Base Hospital at West Haven. It seemed that the strain of the journey across the Atlantic had been too much for his shattered physical condition of Leonard and soon after landing in Virginia, he suffered a general breakdown, and in order to enjoy a period of rest and recuperation, he was sent to the West Haven base hospital.

Corporal Leonard is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, 15 Broad Street, Norwalk, Connecticut; Section E. Photo by webmaster


Published by jeffd1121

USAF retiree. Veteran advocate. Committed to telling the stories of those who died while in the service of the country during wartime.

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