Leon Tony Leonard of Rocky Mount was the type of guy who had a positive outlook and offered words of encouragement to other veterans even though he suffered from the lingering effects of a stroke, his family said.
They and retired veterans were on hand Monday for a flag-raising ceremony in honor of Leonard, a 51-year-old who was killed while riding in a van March 5 that was transporting him on a return trip from the Veteran’s Administration Clinic in Greenville.
The van was hit by an oncoming SUV on N.C. 43 in Pitt County east of Falkland.
The driver of a car that made an illegal pass and cause the chain-reaction, four-vehicle wreck has still not come forward, highway patrol officials said Monday. She is identified as a black woman driving a black Honda or a Nissan, they said.
The Joint Veterans Committee of Nash and Edgecombe Counties chose to memorialize Leonard at its monthly flag-raising ceremony for deceased veterans at Jack Laughery Park.
The ceremony included taps, the singing of patriotic songs by Abigail Pauley, and a three-volley salute by a veterans rifle squad.
Leonard entered the Army in 1980 and served tours of duty in Korea and Germany. He suffered a stroke in 2012 that hospitalized him and left him unconscious for six weeks, but he inspired others with his positive outlook in the face of his illness, his mother Lola said.
“I’m very happy that they have chose to memorialize him,” she said before the ceremony.
She said there is still an empty feeling that the person who started the chain-reaction collision has not been caught.
“It makes me feel like still wanting for something,” she said. “I hope to live long enough to see them catch the person. But in case they don’t, that is between them and their God.”
She said her son, who has children 24 and 25 years old, was “pleasant and quiet-natured.”
“He loved his family and was proud to be a vet,” she said.
Fighting back the tears, Leonard’s youngest brother, Cotye, spoke of how his brother inspired him to go into the Navy.
“He was a much bigger influence on my life than I ever got to tell him,” he said. “But he had a lot to do with me deciding to follow in his footsteps and join the armed forces.”
He said his brother was proud when he decided to join the military.
“I’m really proud to be in his company as a veteran, and I’m very happy to be here with families of other veterans, and we really appreciate it,” he said.
He said coping with the loss of his brother hasn’t been easy, but the support of local veterans organizations has helped his family get through the trying times.
The memorial also included a presentation of the retired flag to the family of the deceased veteran who was honored last month, Corp. Jacob Vick of the United States Marine Corps.