Regimental headquarters named for decorated veteran
March 29, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (March 28, 2012) -- With Friday's dedication of the headquarters building for 3rd Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, the life and legacy of retired Col. James Leach was memorialized for generations to come. This legacy encompasses 34 years of service, the command of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and a range of military honors.
"I know that Jimmy would be honored because he loved Armor," said his wife, Marion. "He loved the Armor family. He loved the Armor School. I feel like his presence is here. I thank those of you young Armor officers and young Armor Soldiers today who are going to carry on the tradition."
Marion said she hopes the Soldiers who come through Leach Hall take the time to stop and look at her husband's memorabilia on display in glass cases near the main entrance. The artifacts include his decorations, coins, burial flag, portrait and a World War II helmet with a bullet hole showing where he was shot Dec. 24, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge. Despite being wounded twice during the fight, Leach led his men to victory with a devotion that earned him the Distinguished Service Cross.
"The dedication and naming of this building is a worthy tribute to a Soldier's Soldier," said retired Lt. Gen. John Ballantyne, who shared his memories of Leach with the crowd of Family and friends who attended the ceremony.
"This gathering today has been very professionally and carefully arranged to accomplish really two things -- to honor and pay tribute to the late Col. Jimmy Leach, and then by his lifetime example to inspire all those who are going to have the good fortune of using … this fine new facility. Col. Leach was a Soldier and a warrior who loved his country, served with distinction through three wars. He was in every way a fine leader."
Ballantyne first met Leach in 1969 just after the latter had taken command of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
"A very hectic time -- the height of the Vietnam War," said Ballantyne, then the executive officer.
"We were working long hours," he said, "making assignments for second and third tours affecting officers and their careers and their Families. And busy as we were, Col. Jimmy Leach never failed to take the time to talk to any junior officer who walked in and wanted his counsel. That made for some long evenings sometimes. He personally reviewed every assignment for every officer and made sure it met the needs of the service, the needs of the officer and the needs of that officer's Family. He cared for the Soldiers he commanded."
Retired Col. James Bradin, who served with Leach in Vietnam, said his friend fought to save the careers of two young Soldiers who were wounded in Vietnam but wished to continue on active duty. Both later became general officers who rose to high positions of leadership in the Army.
"He worked hard at everything he did," Bradin said. "He was the guy who would stand up for the little guy. I miss him."
From all he has read and heard about him, Lt. Col. William Nuckols, commander of 3rd Bn., 81st Armor Regt., said Leach was "certainly one of the very best of 'The Greatest Generation.'"
His name and his belongings that grace the building will be seen by thousands of Soldiers every year who pass through the hall during training. But more importantly perhaps, it will be seen regularly by the cadre who train the Soldiers, Nuckols said.
"They've been to combat. They know," he said. "To see the faces on my NCOs out here reading his bio and looking at the artifacts -- you can see it on the face, they understand what a hero this guy was and the personal self-sacrifice he exhibited. So through them, it will have a tremendous impact on the 20,000 Soldiers a year we train. I have no doubt about that."