By Jose E. Rodriguez, AMEDDC&S HRCoEJune 18, 2019
The former Sergeant Major of the Army Leon L. Van Autreve was honored with a wreath laying at his gravesite during a ceremony celebrating the 244th Army Birthday and National Flag Day at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. The ceremony was co-hosted by the U.S. Army Medical Department Noncommissioned Officer Academy, or NCOA, along with the Sergeant Major of the Army, or SMA, Leon L. Van Autreve Chapter, Sergeant Audie Murphy Club.
Rita Van Autreve, the widow of SMA Van Autreve says the Army Birthday is always a special day for her. Coming to the ceremony is more than a remembrance for her; she feels it is an opportunity to meet the Soldiers that proudly pay tribute to her late husband and a chance for her to see first-hand the legacy her husband left on the Army.
Van Autreve was born in Eeklo, Belgium. He entered the Army from Delphos, Ohio in 1941, served from 1973 to 1975 as the fourth sergeant major of the Army, and retired in 1975 with 31 years of service. He was a highly decorated soldier who participated in many notable operations to include the invasion of Port Lyautey, Africa, and service in Vietnam.
The Army Medical Department, or AMEDD, NCOA was renamed the Van Autreve Hall in September 2002, six months after Van Autreve's death, in honor of his contributions to Army Medicine and support to the academy's mission. During her husband's career, Van Autreve was also actively engaged supporting soldiers and their families, and has continued her and her late husband's devotion to the Army, Fort Sam Houston and the San Antonio military community.
Command Sergeant Gilberto Colon, Command Sergeant Major, 187th Medical Battalion, was the guest speaker at the ceremony and he recalled Van Autreve's career, the many actions he took to strengthen the NCO Corps, and highlighted that Van Autreve was the only foreign-born Sergeant Major of the Army.
Colon said, "He (Van Autreve) was a firm believer of what the American flag represents and he was a true representative of living the American dream."
Van Autreve's grandson Ryan Shipley thanked the attendees on behalf of his family. He closed his remarks by reciting "In Flanders Fields", a favorite poem of his grandfather.
"By honoring his service you honor the service of all our soldiers and our nation's military," said Shipley.
After the ceremony, Van Autreve and her family met with soldiers, many of them sharing stories of how her late husband inspired them to join the Army and advance in their career.
Command Sergeant Major Napoleon Noguerapayan, Commandant for the AMEDD NCOA, who had the pleasure of meeting Van Autreve after he retired, reminded attendees why honoring the flag, the army birthday and the retired SMA together was highly appropriate.
Noguerapayan said that though the mission, uniform, environment, technology has changed since the birth of the National flag and the U.S. Army, the courage, valor and commitment of the American soldier to fight and win has not changed.
"I know Sergeant Major Leon Van Autreve is not here with us physically but I can tell you, he is here in spirit because his legacy is carried on by all of those leaders who are willing to lead by example like he did," Noguerapayan concluded.