Leo Lichten is just one of 10,023 people, so what makes him so special?
Meet Leo Lichten. We don’t know much about him, but we imagine he’s a lot like you. Young, full of promise and dreams, and looking forward to a life of excitement and adventure. He likes music and taking pictures. Just an ordinary teenager struggling to find his place in the world.
Times are different for Leo. He has no smart phone or Internet. No video games or tablets. But he keeps in touch with his friends, especially Paul Slater, the old-fashioned way: pen and paper. A more complete picture of his life comes into focus from letters he wrote.
Leo was born on May 31, 1925, in Manhattan to Max and Mollie Lichten. He grew up in Brooklyn, and was described by his best buddy Paul as a “very noble, intelligent and courageous person.” He even saved Paul from drowning once when they were kids. A best buddy indeed.
Leo’s parents divorced when he was young, and times were tough as the Great Depression weighed heavily on the United States. His friend described their childhood through the lens of poverty, but Leo had great hopes and expectations for the future.
Those expectations took a turn when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, pulling the United States into a war that had already been raging in Europe for two years. Leo entered the US Army, and found himself landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy on Nov. 1, 1944. Two weeks later, Leo’s unit is given orders to attack German positions as part of Operation Clipper.
Leo’s company, Company A, is ordered on Nov. 20, 1944, to attack pillboxes (small bunkers) just outside Prummern to eliminate the enemy resistance in the small German town. The weather is cold and rainy, and the ground is muddy, making the battle even more difficult than it might otherwise have been. Leo storms one of the pillboxes, but is killed by machine gun fire early in the fighting.
He was laid to rest in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, along with 8,300 fellow US soldiers and the names of 1,700 other who went missing in action.
Meet Leo Lichten, a liberator of Europe.
Leo will remain forever young in the memories of those who knew him, like his best buddy Paul (pictured here with his son, named after Leo).
Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans adopted his grave and brought Leo’s story to life in this brochure, but Leo is just one of the 10,023 names and faces memorialized in Margraten. That is what makes Leo Lichten so special. Minister Timmermans is visiting Washington, D.C. through May 1, in part to express his gratitude for the liberators of Europe in World War II.
Can you help tell the thousands of other stories that remain untold of the other soldiers? They were your grandparents and great-grandparents, the liberators of Europe 70 years ago. Their stories need to be heard. Learn more.