Last week Niagara Discoveries highlighted eight men who had a connection to Niagara County and received the Medal of Honor for meritorious service in the Civil War. This week, we're looking at five more men who had an association with the county and served in World War I, World War II or the Vietnam War. One of them, Frank Gaffney, was the second most decorated soldier of World War I after Sgt. Alvin York. The official citations for each of these men were rather lengthy, so they have been abbreviated for space constraints.
Frank Gaffney was born in Buffalo in 1883 and came to Lockport about 1900. He lived on Niagara Street and worked at a paper mill. In 1917, he enlisted in the U. S. Army at Niagara Falls as a Private First Class, Company G, 108th Infantry, 27th Division and was sent to Ronssoy, France in 1918. On Sept. 29, 1918, “Pfc. Gaffney, an automatic rifleman, pushing forward alone, after all the other members of his squad had been killed, discovered several Germans placing a heavy machinegun in position. He killed the crew, captured the gun, bombed several dugouts, and, after killing 4 more of the enemy with his pistol, held the position until reinforcements came up, when 80 prisoners were captured.” A week later, Gaffney lost his left arm in another engagement in France. His medal was issued on Dec. 31, 1919.
After the war, Gaffney lived in Niagara Falls and again worked in a paper mill. He died in 1948, aged 62, after falling from his porch. Gaffney Road in Lockport was later named in his honor.
Willis Winter Bradley, Jr. was born in 1884 in Ransomville but his parents left for the Dakota Territory shortly after his birth. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1906. During World War I, gunnery officer Lt. Bradley performed “extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving on the U.S.S. Pittsburgh, at the time of an accidental explosion of ammunition on that vessel. On 23 July 1917, some saluting cartridge cases were being reloaded in the after casemate: through an accident an explosion occurred. Lt. Bradley, who was about to enter the casemate, was blown back by the explosion and rendered momentarily unconscious, but while still dazed, crawled into the casemate to extinguish burning materials in dangerous proximity to a considerable amount of powder, thus preventing further explosions.” The date of issue of his medal is unknown. He attained the rank of Commander and was Governor of Guam. He served one term in Congress and one term in the California State Assembly before dying in 1954. A destroyer escort ship, the USS Bradley, was named in his honor in 1964.
Bernard P. Bell was born in Grantsville, West Virginia, in 1911. He enlisted in 1942 in New York City. At the time of his action he was a Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company I, 142nd Infantry, 36th Division. On Dec. 18, 1944, in Mittelwihr, France, T/Sgt. Bell “led a squad against a schoolhouse held by enemy troops … surprised 2 guards and took them prisoner …” Over the next few days, Bell “repeatedly repaired” damaged communications equipment while “under heavy small-arms fire,” “climbed to the 2nd floor [of the school] and directed artillery fire,” “adjusted mortar fire on large forces of the enemy,” “unhesitatingly exposed himself to heavy small arms fire to stand beside a friendly tank and tell its occupants where to rip holes in the wall,” and “mowed down all hostile troops attempting to cross the openings.” “By his intrepidity and bold, aggressive leadership, T/Sgt. Bell enabled his 8-man squad to drive back approximately 150 of the enemy, killing at least 87 and capturing 42.” He was issued his medal on Aug. 30, 1945. After the war, Bell lived on Macklen Avenue in Niagara Falls and worked for the Veterans Administration for about 6 years. He later moved to Florida and died in 1971.
William Leonard was born in 1913 in Lockport and worked as a butcher before being drafted into the U.S. Army as Private First Class, Co. C, 30th Infantry during World War II. On Nov. 7, 1944, in St. Die, France, Pfc. Leonard “distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty … he led the survivors [of his squad] in an assault over a hill … which the enemy continuously swept with automatic weapons fire … Ignoring bullets which pierced his pack, he killed two snipers … destroyed a machinegun nest, killing its crew … Stunned by an exploding bazooka shell, Pfc. Leonard advanced, knocking out a 2nd machinegun nest and capturing a roadblock.” After the war, Leonard returned to Lockport, resumed his job as butcher and later worked for Harrison Radiator. He died in 1985. In 2014, as part of an effort to reexamine cases of extreme bravery that were denied the Medal of Honor based on racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, several cases that did not fit that criteria were found as well, one being William Leonard. His daughters accepted his medal posthumously in 2014.
John Bobo was born in Niagara Falls in 1943 and graduated from Niagara University in 1965. He immediately joined the U.S. Marine Corps with the rank of 2nd Lt., Company I, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. On March 30, 1967, in Quang Tri Province, Republic of (South) Vietnam, 2nd Lt. Bobo acted with “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty … Company I was establishing night ambush sites when … it was attacked by a reinforced North Vietnamese … Lt. Bobo immediately organized a hasty defense … Recovering a rocket launcher … he organized a new launcher team and directed its fire into the enemy machine gun position … When an enemy mortar round severed Lt. Bobo's right leg below the knee, he refused to be evacuated and insisted upon being placed in a firing position … With a web belt around his leg serving as a tourniquet and with his leg jammed into the dirt…he remained in this position and delivered devastating fire into the ranks of the enemy ... Lt. Bobo was mortally wounded while firing his weapon into the main point of the enemy attack [and] his tenacious stand enabled the command group to gain a protective position where it repulsed the enemy onslaught … He gallantly gave his life for his country.” The date his medal was issued is not recorded. Three U.S. Navy ships, several Marine Corps facilities and the baseball field at Niagara University are named in his honor.
Two other men who had Niagara County connections also received the Medal of Honor. Major George E. Day of Iowa, a POW during the Vietnam War, was stationed for 2 ½ years at the Niagara Falls Air Force Base in the mid 1960s. Frederick E. Toy was born in Buffalo and later lived in Niagara Falls and Lewiston. He received his medal for action during the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota in 1890. The medals received during this conflict are controversial and have been called into question by Native American leaders who are asking the U.S. government to rescind them.
Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.