BG(R) Ralph Leonard was born in 1930 and grew up in Old Town, Maine. He was a Boy Scout during WWII, and remembers having a wartime mission of running messages between observers at night, relaying information concerning possible German infiltration or air raids. After the war ended, he participated in the 1947 Boy Scout World Jamboree in France, the “Jamboree for Peace,” where he met scouts from all over the world. His scouting experience, along with positive depictions of West Point in movies, inspired him to apply to the Military Academy. He enjoyed his Cadet experience, and chose to join the Air Force upon graduation. Before the Air Force Academy was established in 1954, roughly 25% of the graduates from West Point and Annapolis branched Air Force. While on active duty, he spent time based in Morocco flying the prop-driven Grumman HU-16 Albatross search and rescue plane. At that time, the jet B-47 bomber was refueled by a much slower prop refueler, occasionally resulting in the B-47 stalling and crashing, and his mission was to pick up B-47 crews. Returning from overseas, he was stationed in Reno, Nevada, and trained on the C-47. He felt like he was tracking into prop aircraft and wanted to fly jets, so he transferred to the Maine National Guard, where he began flying the F-89. Over his career in the National Guard, he flew the F-89, the F-102, and the KC-135, and served as a Maintenance Officer, the Commander of Materiel Command, a Deputy Wing Commander, and the Commander of the Maine Air National Guard. Additionally, he entered the construction business and ran a company that specialized in interstate highway construction. He also served on the Old Town, Maine, city council, and in 1998 he was appointed a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army (CASA), acting as an interface between the Army and civilian society. In 2017, he was honored by being named CASA Emeritus.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his memories of World War II, and becoming an Eagle Scout. He describes his West Point experiences and his path to the Air Force, highlighting his service on active duty and in the Air National Guard. He discusses his service to the community on the Old Town city council and as a CASA, and the obligation of a citizen to “do your part.” Finally, he reflects on his six of his grandchildren who have served, including four who attended West Point, and considers what his service means to him.