Posted Online: Oct. 01, 2012, 12:02 am

Portion of Henry County Route 7 to be renamed in honor of Vietnam soldier

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By Lisa Hammer,

Sgt. Michael W. Leif
Photo: Lisa Hammer
One of the signs Henry County has placed on County Route 7, a portion of which has been renamed to honor Michael Leif, a county resident killed in Vietnam.
LYNN CENTER -- A section of Henry County Route 7 is being renamed in honor of fallen Vietnam War soldier Michael W. Leif.

A dedication will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at his grave site at the Western Township Cemetery. A lunch will follow at the Swedona Lutheran Church.

Signs bearing the road's honorary name have been placed at the intersection of routes 150 and 81 and on County Route 7 at the Henry-Mercer county line, with a third sign between those two. Orion American Legion Post 255 and the Orion Veterans of Foreign Wars Chapter 143 initiated the effort to name the road in honor of Sgt. Leif, who served in the Army from 1967 until he was killed on Dec. 7, 1969.

His mother, Lois Leif, of Moline, recently recalled that after her son's death the government told her only that he was killed in action. Thirty-four years later, she said, she got a letter from his fellow serviceman, Jim White, who wrote that he had offered to be in the more dangerous spot in the top of the tank on the day Sgt. Leif died. He did so, he said, because Sgt. Leif had just 23 days left in his year-long tour and Mr. White had seven months. Sgt. Leif declined the offer.

They were out on patrol when a girl who was probably just 12 years old fired at them from the bushes, shooting Sgt. Leif through the temple, Mr. White told Mrs. Leif.

Mr. White still writes to Mrs. Leif at Christmas. "He can't get over seeing Mike shot," she said.

Mrs. Leif said she was glad that Mr. White had contacted her. "At least we know what happened to Mike. He wasn't killed in action, he was killed by a civilian."

She said knowing he had died quickly was a big relief. "That was the best thing," she said.

Michael Leif graduated from Orion High School in 1967. His mother remembers him "tearing down the stairs" to where she was cutting hair -- she worked as a beautician for over 35 years -- and telling her, "'I got a job!'" and that he'd signed up for the Army.

"Mike said to me, 'Mom, I know why I'm fighting here; we can't let the Communists come to our country.' But I don't know, he was so young. Twenty years, what have you lived in 20 years?"

Mrs. Leif and her late husband, Leo, who died in 2002, went to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., three times. She remembers how little was done for the returning soldiers.

"Nothing was done for the Vietnam veterans whatsoever, no flags or parades or cops, like they have now -- which is wonderful to me; I mean, that's the way it should be."