THE MAN WHO LIBERATED AN ENTIRE VILLAGE SINGLE-HANDEDLY
Léo Major was a 19-year-old farmer from Quebec who joined up to fight for the British. According to the New York Times, his military career got off to a shaky start. He trained as a sniper, but lost sight in one eye to a grenade just after D-Day. Then, he broke three vertebrae, an arm, and both ankles in a landmine incident. Insisting he still had the one good eye he needed to shoot, he headed back to the front.
That took him to the Dutch town of Zwolle, and on April 13, 1945, he and fellow soldier Willie Arsenault were sent into the town of 50,000 on a reconnaissance mission. Arsenault was killed, and after killing those responsible for his comrade’s death, Major warned the Germans they needed to evacuate ahead of the arrival of a massive contingent of Allied soldiers. He left, then ran back into town, firing his gun and throwing all the grenades that he could. He also stumbled on the town’s Gestapo headquarters and set it on fire. The Germans, believing they were under a major attack, decided the best course of action was to flee.
Today, there’s still a street named after Major in Zwolle (via CBC), and his story is taught to local students. When Major died in 2008, Dutch nationals traveled to Canada for his funeral. Mayor Jan Meijer described him as “a symbol of our freedom.”