Leonard A. Funk
With Memorial Day upon us here in the States, I once again feel compelled by some unspoken sense of duty to bring you a story about an American soldier who shot a lot of Nazis with an automatic weapon until most of them were no longer alive. I have no idea what the connection is between this particular weekend and my interest in hardcore gun battles blasting across the hedgerows of Normandy, though I presume it has something to do with the fact that I'm usually gearing myself up for a few days of watching Band of Brothers and barbecuing hamburgers (albeit with varying levels of success). Luckily these sorts of stories almost never seem to get old for some reason, which is a good thing. This is particularly true in the amazing case of U.S. Army First Sergeant Leonard A. Funk, Jr. This monstrous cannonball of de-Nazification was the most decorated American paratrooper of World War II, which is a feat of ultimate badassitude in and of itself. But the story behind this guy's Medal of Honor citation involves one of the most intense and stone-cold close-quarters gunfights I think I've ever read – an epic, bloody, super-brief showdown on par with some of the greatest standoffs this side of a John Woo movie.
Leonard Funk enlisted in the Army in June 1941, just six months before the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor brought the United States into all the World War II goodness that was already blowing up half of the globe. The 21 year-old recruit easily completed jump school, was assigned to Company C of the 508th Parachute Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, and trained himself in the fine arts of leaping out of an airplane and killing people in the head with bullets. Once he was deemed "pretty awesome" at those tasks, he went on his first combat drop, which incidentally involved parachuting behind enemy lines on the same day that the Allied forces were landing on the beaches at Normandy. During the campaign that followed he went on some intense, balls-out night raids and daring attacks on enemy positions, and was so hardcore over the next three months that by September he had been promoted from Private to the Company's First Sergeant.
Standing just five and a half feet tall, Lenny Funk wasn't exactly the most physically imposing warrior to ever live, but his hardcore tenacity in combat and amazing ability to coordinate his associates to kill lots of people without dying themselves eventually earned him the respectable nickname "Napoleon", and there are a lot worse dudes you can be compared to. He didn't disappoint his namesake – after parachuting into Holland in the early stages of Operation Market Garden, he led a successful small three-man patrol that charged into the face of three fully-crewed 20mm anti-aircraft guns that were firing on US gliders.
A 20mm gun crew. Funk and two wingmen took out three of these things in the span of a few minutes.
Charging in, balls-out and guns blazing, Funk and his small team destroyed the three enemy positions Wolfenstein-style and wiped out twenty German soldiers without losing a man. They cleared the landing zone for Allied gliders and paratroopers, and then proceeded to secure the area while the rest of the invasion force regrouped and organized. Even though Market Garden ended up being a failed mission, Funk's impressive actions earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for bravery offered by the Army.
But he wasn't done. If you think taking out twenty dudes and three artillery pieces with just three guys was an impressive piece of Napoleonic maneuvering, this guy somehow one-upped himself the only way he could – by single-handedly busting up German operations with his nutsack and receiving the Medal of Honor.
On January 29, 1945, Leonard Funk's company was deployed to Belgium to help prevent the German breakout during the Battle of the Bulge, an intense bloodbath that presumably gets its name from Lenny Funk's raging kill-boner. Taking over command of the company after the death of the XO, Funk knew the supreme importance of kicking the Germans' asses before they could bust through American lines and cause serious havoc on the invasion operations. As if it's not enough indication of the state of the company that this dude was a Sergeant acting as a Captain, Funk went around looking for people to help him take out a strategic German strongpoint but couldn't even scrounge together a platoon-sized unit of combat-ready infantry. So, realizing the significance of this bullshit, he said fuck it – he went down to the clerks' office, threw together an ad hoc platoon of pencil-pushers and supply techs, whipped them into shape, and attacked a goddamned town with the rag-tag crew. Despite being woefully inexperienced, these Renegades of Funk charged fifteen miles through waist deep snow, into a driving blizzard and brutal artillery bombardments, attacked the town, cleared out fifteen houses, and captured over eighty German prisoners of war in just a few hours. Oh yeah, and they didn't take a single casualty in the process.
Funk, of course, wasn't going to quit just because he'd single-handedly captured an entire town and its garrison with just thirty non-combatants, and he immediately left the eighty POWs under guard of four armed Americans and pressed on with his attack. While he was out beating people to death with anything larger than a two-by-four, however, a group of Germans in arctic camouflage snuck back into the town Funk had just captured, overwhelmed the American guards, and freed the recently-captured POWs. Funk and one of his men returned to their camp to find a hundred cranky Germans waving guns in his face, and a Nazi officer pointing at Luger in his face from point-blank range.
Now, the logical reaction here would obviously be to put your hands up and prepare to spend the rest of the war either in a prison camp or a coffin, depending on what kind of mood the Wehrmacht officer is in, because you are fucked. You're standing there like an idiot with your Tommy gun slung over your shoulder, staring down a hundred guys with guns and a dude shoving a pistol in your face. The only other Allies in the area are all sitting on the ground with their hands on their helmets. You're more boned than a schoolteacher in a low-budget porn.
But that's not the way Leonard Funk saw it. This crazy hardass saw a tough-as-shit Mexican standoff.
With all these guys pointing weapons at him, this insane titanium-balled asskicker did the unthinkable. He brought the Funk. In one lightning-quick movement, the paratrooper unslung the Tommy gun from his shoulder, swung it around, and blew away the officer with a burst of .45 ACP ammuniton to the chest and abdomen. That's some Jason Bourne shit right there, but the insanity was just beginning. After blasting the German so hard that the dude probably flew six feet backwards through the air in slow motion, Funk whipped his weapon around immediately started spraying the Germans behind him with bullets, wasting as many as he could. Over the sound of full-auto SMG fire, Funk screamed for the captured Americans to get off their asses and grab guns off of the dead Nazis.
The Germans immediately returned fire on Funk, of coruse, but this dude was apparently more bulletproof than Steven Segal. Gunfire took out the American standing next to Funk, but the badass Sergeant not only continued firing, but he blew through his mag, reloaded, and popped off another full magazine of ammunition into the Germans. In under a minute of fighting, Funk had unleashed 60 bullets, killed 21 Germans and wounded 24 more. Anyone left standing after this flagrant display of awesomeness wisely dropped their guns and raised their hands.
Funk would receive the Medal of Honor for about forty-five seconds worth of ultra-intense work, and would continue on to get the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts, though I wasn't able to locate citations for any of those awards. He left the Army after the war, served as regional chief of the Pittsburgh Veteran's Affairs Office for a while, shaved off his 'stache, and generally continued being awesome. He died in 1992, and is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery alongside many other U.S. military heroes.
This guy was so tough he trained by parachuting with dogs. Or something
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