The story of the guy who would become one of the biggest badasses to ever grace Canadian history started off as nothing short of ordinary, of a young man from a working-class family in the midst of the Great Depression enlisting in the military to prove to his father that he was “someone to be proud of”. And proud Leo Major would make, not just his father but his entire country.
He got his first taste of the battlefield on D-Day. While serving on a reconnaissance mission, he saw a German armored halftrack passing by and decided it was a good idea to capture it, which he did alone and without any heavy equipment. The vehicle was found to carry vital communication equipment and secret codes. A few days later, he would have his first encounter with a Nazi SS patrol, he would kill four of them and continued fighting even after losing an eye from a phosphorus explosion. Afterward, rather than accept being evacuated back to England, he insisted on continuing his sniper duty, saying he only needed one eye to sight his weapon.
During the Battle of Scheldt, he all by himself took on an entire German garrison of nearly a hundred men. Sneaking undetected, he managed to capture their commanding officer and forced him to surrender. The rest of the garrison soon followed save one who instantly got shot dead by Major. Thus, a lone Canadian private walked back to his base with an entire company of prisoners.
But on his way, an SS artillery nearby started firing on their location killing seven of his prisoners. Major disregarded the fire and calmly escorted the prisoners to the relative safety of Canadian front lines and then ordered a passing Canadian tank to go fire at the SS location. Afterward, he continued their march towards the camp.
For his sheer badassery, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) but he refused to accept it because the General awarding him (Bernard Montgomery) was “incompetent” and thus, in no position to be giving out medals.
His greatest feat, of course, would arise in the Dutch town of Zwolle, which he would single-handedly manage to liberate from the occupying German army. The town held strategic importance, being a major transportation hub and an important linchpin in the German defenses in the region.
Major and another soldier named Willie Arsenault volunteered to go on a scouting mission there to gather intelligence on the enemy. However, they would get spotted and in the ensuing firefight, Willie would be killed. Enraged at the loss of his friend, rather than surrender, Major would fight on even more relentlessly, downing two Germans and causing the rest to flee.
But Major wasn’t done yet, rather than report back to his base, he entered the town alone, found an enemy staff car, and disarmed its occupants. He then told the German officer that the Canadian artillery would be firing on the town in the morning and then set him free to spread the rumor, even returning his weapon as a sign of good faith.
During the night, Major armed himself with as many weapons as he could carry, firing and throwing explosives to make it appear like an entire army was there. Several times that night, he raided the town, each time coming back to the Canadian base with 8 to 10 German prisoners in tow. He even managed to locate the Gestapo building and set it on fire.
Of course, as with any classic hero story, there is a ‘boss’ battle at the end and his was with the Nazi SS at their town headquarters. Single-handedly, taking on the lot of them, he managed to kill four of them and caused the rest to flee. By 4:30, the town had been completely liberated of the Germans, with them having either been captured by Major or being entirely in retreat. For his actions, he would again be offered the Distinguished Conduct Medal and this time he would accept.
But the story of his heroics wouldn’t just end here….
With the start of the Korean War, Major would be called out from his retirement to serve his country again. Leading an elite sniper team, they would be tasked with capturing a strategic hill from the Chinese forces. Silently creeping up deep within the enemy’s camp, Major and his men would suddenly open fire, causing great confusion within the Chinese ranks and forcing them to flee in disarray.
However, they had little time to celebrate victory as, just an hour later, two full enemy divisions totaling 14,000 men would attack their position. Ordered to retreat and despite the overwhelming odds, Major and his men would instead choose to hold off the enemy for over three days. Fighting by the third day would get so close and intense that Major would be calling down supporting artillery fire practically on their own position. By the next day’s morning, however, the Chinese forces were exhausted and the hill was still clearly in Canadian hands.
For his unbelievable gallantry, Major would once again be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, becoming the only Canadian soldier ever in history to receive it twice.