Largo woman donates first boots to touch ground at Normandy to WWII museum

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Col. Leonard Schroeder kept some very special boots in his Largo, Florida 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 land on the beaches of Normandy. By leading the charge off that boat, his boots became the first to hit the sand - and he saved them.

Upon his death in 2009, Schroeder passed the boots he wore on D-Day to the Armed Forces History Museum in Largo. The museum closed and the boots passed back to his daughter, Jane Schroeder who still lives in Largo.

A number of museums want to add the boots to their exhibits, including the Smithsonian. After considering the options, the Schroeder family picked the National World War II museum in New Orleans.

Jane said the family preferred a museum focused specifically on honoring the heroes of World War II. She plans to officially donate the boots along with some of her father’s other military belongings this year.

She reflected on his service on this 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

"My dad was my hero and is my hero," she said. “It was either right or wrong. He lived by that."

Before his death, Col. Leonard Schroeder gave his final interview to FOX 13, describing what it was like to be the first whose boots hit land.

"Well, about 80% of the guys on the boat were sick, upchucking," he recalled.

He 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 continued. "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 a Nazi fort. Bullets ripped through his arm, but he kept going -- he 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 added that he told his men that around seven out of 10 would not return from their mission, but none of them deserted.