WESTPORT — Leo St. Onge, Westport’s most decorated World War II veteran, died Monday at 5:15 p.m. at St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River at the age of 91.
“Today I lost a friend, a father figure and Westport lost its highest World War II decorated veteran,” said longtime friend Lino Rego, the commander of the James Morris American Legion Post. His “valor and heroism during World War II is what movies are made of. I will surely miss him.”
Mr. St. Onge’s gallantry during fighting in Italy earned him awards that he wore proudly on Veterans Day and Memorial Day when he never missed a chance to salute fellow veterans. He was often a grand marshal at such events in Westport and in Fall River.
He also wore this medals not long ago when Massachusetts and Westport dedicated the Interstate 95 overpass bridge at Davis Road, not far from Mr. St. Onge’s home, in his honor. A plaque now bears the name “Leo St. Onge Bridge.”
Born in Westport, Mr. St. Onge grew up in Fall River where his family moved so that his father could obtain work during the Great Depression.
Mr. St. Onge entered the Army in 1942 and was assigned to the 85th Infantry Division — the Custer Division — as a machine gunner. That division faced repeated heavy combat as it worked its way north through Italy fighting German and Italian fascist troops. During that campaign he was twice injured — one so badly that doctors weren’t certain he would survive.
On one occasion, Mr. St. Onge lugged a wounded comrade under fire across a fast moving stream with water that reached up to their necks.
So impressed was a captain who witnessed it all that he offered to promote private St. Onge to sergeant on the spot. He declined, saying he preferred to remain a machine gunner.
He would later be awarded the Silver Star for Gallantry, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal, Europe-Africa-Middle East Medal, American Campaign Medal, The Victory Medal and The Combat Infantry badge. Belatedly, after 64 years in 2009, he was awarded the French Croix de Guere with palm unit citation.
After the bridge plaque was unveiled, he told the audience at the bridge dedication, “I don’t know why so much fuss is being made. I was just doing my job … What I did in the service had to be done.”
After the war, he worked for years in Westport as a truck driver and a carpenter. He was also known for his volunteer efforts on behalf of youth groups and other causes.
Information on services for Mr. St. Onge is printed on page 14 of this week’s Shoelines.