Leo Elshout’s extraordinary path to Minden
Leo Elshout may no longer be with us, but he made sure to leave his friends and loved ones with one fantastic story to tell.
Our nation’s history is filled to the brim with patriotic stories of courage, sacrifice and perseverance in the face of danger.
Leo’s is no different.
During World War II, Leo was a young man living in the small town of Drunen in Holland. He was tall with short cropped hair and gifted as an athlete. So gifted that he served as an alternate for the triple jump in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Germany. He also served in Holland’s Royal Army.
“I think he loved adventure,” Leo’s son Martin Elshout said. “It must have taken a tremendous amount of courage to do what he did.”
Leo’s only daughter, Maria, described Leo as, “a hard worker and a family man.”
By September of 1944, Holland was in its fourth year of German occupation, and according to memoirs left by Leo, “We were sick and tired of them.”
It was still September when a glider broke loose and crash landed in a wooded field about two miles south of Drunen.
Leo witnessed the glider’s descent while riding his bike and rushed to the scene where he found four British soldiers talking with civilians.
Leo made the quick and courageous decision to take the soldiers to safety in the woods before Germans discovered them.
Tommy Elshout, Leo’s middle child, described the cold truth of the situation.
“If the Germans would have discovered what he was doing they would have put a bullet in his head,” said Elshout.
Leo recruited two cousins, Jo and David, to help hide the soldiers, and under the cover of night the soldiers took shelter at Jo’s house.
Once things calmed down, British SSGT. Harold Leakey told Leo another glider would be landing in the woods and he wanted Leo to go and meet them.
When Leo went to meet the battle of gliders the next day, he found 15 American soldiers this time.
Leo said the Americans weren’t as trusting of him as the British, despite the fact that he had a letter of recommendation from SSGT. Leakey.
Cousin David came back for Leo and the Americans to take them to a monastery where shelter would be given, but the Americans weren’t sure they trusted their Dutch caretakers.
According to Leo’s memoirs, the American Staff Sergeant, a man from Shreveport named Russell Vaught, stuck his pistol in Leo’s back and said, “Lead the way. incase something happens, you get it first.”
Luckily, Leo never got it from Vaught, and their trust grew stronger as the days passed without the Germans discovering the Allied soldiers.
“He never blamed the American soldiers for being too careful,” Tommy Elshout said. “Leo and Russell actually became friends after the war.”
Soon, word came to Leo and the soldiers that the Allied front was getting close to the German occupied town, meaning conflict was eminent. To make matters more complicated, a resistance leader from another town heard of Leo and told him he had 29 British troops in hiding he didn’t know what to do with.
So of course, Leo made arrangements to move his 19 soldiers and the other man’s 28 soldiers into a big barn behind a cafe’ owned by some friends in the nearby town of Elshout.
Always on the move to avoid detection, the soldiers were taken into an asylum where they thought they would be able to wait out the impending fight.
However, one night the German soldiers came into the asylum and occupied the downstairs kitchen to feed their soldiers.
Luckily, the Allied troops were upstairs.
With tensions high and the German soldiers back out on guard, only one German guard remained in the kitchen. Seeing an opportunity to distract the guard, Elshout said he came in with a bottle of schnapps and drank the German guard under the table. With the guard neutralized, the 47 soldiers escaped unharmed.
One week later, the 47 troops were returned to their units safely, just in time to take part in the Battle of the Bulge.
The Battle of the Bulge was the bloodiest battle of World War II in terms of U.S. casualties, and Leo said sadly he lost a few of his boys there.
After the war, Leo was awarded the British King’s Medal of Courage as well as a Presidential Citation from Dwight Eisenhower.
Following the battle, Drunen was liberated from the Germans, but at great cost. Lives had been lost and businesses had been destroyed. As Leo and the rest of the Dutch began picking up the pieces, Leo received a letter from New York. It was the Americans whom Leo had helped.
They were disappointed to hear of the destruction left behind and wanted to help the man who had kept them alive behind enemy lines.
The next letter Leo received was from Tinsley Connell, one of the Americans Leo had grown close with. Connell was offering to sponsor Leo to come and live in the United States, an offer he took without much hesitation.
During the six months or so it took to get the paperwork in order, Leo met and married his wife.
Although he had to leave for the U.S. without her, she quickly was granted sponsorship and joined him there, where they made a new life for themselves in Minden.
Along the way, Leo and his wife Lanie were blessed with five children: Jerry, Martin, Tommy, Maria and Mike.
Leo eventually opened his own auto repair shop and was a constant at the pro-shop of Pine Hills Country Club where he made a lifetime-worth of friendships.
“I swell up when I think about it,” Martin said. “I’m very proud to say he was my dad.”