On the morning of June 26, 1944, 2nd Lt. Harold Leazer took the controls of his B-24 Liberator as it lifted off from its base in Cerignola, Italy. His bomber was part of a 500-plane raid against Axis oil production facilities near Vienna. Since the Allied landings at Normandy earlier that month, the United States Army Air Force had made it an urgent priority to cripple the refineries that kept the German war machine humming.
By this time, Leazer had completed fourteen missions and like other American pilots he looked forward eventually to completing his fiftieth so he could return to the States. "Another week has passed and all we can say is that it's a week nearer the day now that we'll be home again," he wrote his parents back in Remington, Virginia. "Really I'll admit that I've had enough of this life and I'm ready to come home. The life isn't too hard [but] it's the fact that all this conflict is so uncalled for and no one wants it."
As Leazer's B-24 approached its target in Austria, heavy antiaircraft fire bracketed the plane. Flak knocked out an engine and cut off the interphone system. As the damaged bomber drifted away from the rest of the formation, it became easy prey for enemy fighters. Hit by cannon fire, the B-24 erupted into flames after the oxygen system ignited. A shell exploded in the bomb-bay door, cutting off escape for the men in the front of the plane. Leazer kept the Liberator aloft long enough so that crew members in the rear had time to parachute to safety. "Most of the men are about 22years of age," Leazer had written about them earlier, "so you can tell that I'm the 'old man' of the crew. . . . All in all I'm proud of my boys and the way they work."
Four of the crew survived the crash. Harold Leazer and five others perished with their plane and with many other American fliers that day in their attempt to strike a blow at Nazi Germany. The Virginia Historical Society owns letters, pictures, and newspaper articles pertaining to Harold Leazer and his family, testimony to the life and death of a young man who gave everything for his crewmates, his family, and his country.