LARGO, Fla. (FOX 13) - Colonel Leonard Schroeder kept some very special boots in his Pinellas County garage. He wore them the day he led the charge that drove the Nazis out of France. The U.S. Department of War (now the Department of Defense) confirmed he was the first American to storm the beaches of Normandy, to retake Europe from the Nazis.
Schroeder died in 2009 and donated his boots to the Armed Forces History Museum in Largo. He gave his final interview to FOX 13 years ago.
"Well about 80 percent of the guys on the boat were sick, upchucking," he said. They said they saw the beach, then realized his own air support was still blasting it to bits.
"They were running a little late and we were running ahead of time," he recalled. "They were dropping all those bombs on the place where we were going in."
He grounded the boat, then dodged Nazi fire as he led the charge to seize the Nazi fort. Bullets ripped through his arm, but he kept going, killed a Nazi machine gunner, and cleared the path to freedom.
"Then we broke a hole in the seawall so the tanks get through."
Schroeder said he was bullied as a child, but that drove him to fight as a man. And with that, he said he stepped up and into the most important battle of the 20th Century. He said he told his men that around seven out of 10 would not return from their mission, but none of them deserted.