Leonard Sacharoff, Bellevue WWII veteran who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, dies of coronavirus – Seattle Times

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There was something unusual about Leonard Sacharoff: He was always happy.

There was rarely a time when Mr. Sacharoff’s family and friends saw the former paratrooper, marathoner and unrepentant singer without a smile on his face or a song in his heart.

“The thing that impressed most people, including myself, was that he always seemed to have this good-natured, even-keeled thing going,” said Ira Sacharoff, his son. “Like, no matter what. He was a sweetheart. For a guy who jumped out of airplanes holding a machine gun, he was the sweetest, mellowest guy.”

Mr. Sacharoff died April 26 of complications from COVID-19. The Bellevue resident was 96.

Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Mr. Sacharoff lived a robust life in his home state before moving to the Seattle area in 2010 to be closer to his family after the death of his wife of 55 years, Clare.

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Mr. Sacharoff’s sunny attitude drove many of his accomplishments in life.

The plucky youth grew up in the Ferrer Colony, an anarchist utopian community in Stelton, New Jersey. His attendance at The Modern School was optional, “where you didn’t have to go to class if you didn’t feel like it,” Ira Sacharoff said. And young Leonard often didn’t feel like it.

“Well, my father spent a lot of time going fishing instead,” Ira Sacharoff said.

The young Sacharoff was smart enough to know he was falling behind as he entered fifth grade, however.

“Because some neighbor kid of his, who my father always thought of as kind of stupid, knew fractions and he was two years younger than my father,” Sacharoff said. “So he enrolled himself in the public school.”

In 1942, Mr. Sacharoff enlisted in the army at 19, joining the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

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“He volunteered because he was very much opposed to Hitler,” Ira Sacharoff said.

The Red Devils, with their battle cry “Diablo!,” participated in some of the most important and harrowing battles in World War II.

Mr. Sacharoff dropped in behind enemy lines on D-Day — June 6, 1944 — as part of the largest air operation in history. Operation Neptune included 10,000 Americans who landed by parachute and glider, according to the 508th’s unit history.

Mr. Sacharoff and his fellow soldiers were charged with capturing a pair of bridges over the Douve River, controlling the Germans’ ability to send in reinforcements and resupply. They were on the ground in Normandy for 33 days.

Mr. Sacharoff remembered the early days of the invasion with a colorful anecdote in “The 508th Connection,” a history of the unit’s experiences by Zig Boroughs.

“They sent me to buy eggs because I could speak French,” he said. “The Norman farmers wouldn’t sell me anything, but some street-wise kid with a Tommy gun, talking like a Chicago gangster, came back with 200 eggs.”

In December 1944, Mr. Sacharoff fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the largest battle of World War II. The 508th unit took heavy losses.

Ira Sacharoff said his father didn’t speak of his experiences in Europe until much later in life, “maybe because of trauma.”

“It had to be pretty intense,” Ira Sacharoff said. “He parachuted into some really major battles. I read about the statistics of casualties of the 508th Paratrooper Infantry Regiment that he was a part of. It was exceptionally high.”

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Mr. Sacharoff married Clare in 1953 and had two children, Ira and Debbie. He worked for 40 years as a quality control analyst in a Union Carbide plastics factory. He moved to Seattle two years after his wife’s death in 2008, and lived in the area for a decade before his death.

Mr. Sacharoff was an avid singer. A member of his high school choir, he participated in musical theater after the war and was a member of senior choirs late in life. In his 50s, he turned to long-distance running and ran marathons, his son said. Sacharoff continued to run shorter races into his 80s.

“His doctor told him he should lose a little weight and maybe consider getting some regular exercise, like taking walks,” Ira Sacharoff said. “And his thought was, ‘Hey, I was a paratrooper. Paratroopers don’t go for walks.’ So he picked up running.”

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Ira Sacharoff said his father is survived by his children, a grandchild and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at a later date, and Mr. Sacharoff will be interred at Tahoma National Cemetery.

Though he was 96, Mr. Sacharoff had showed no signs of slowing down, remaining independent and choosing to live alone rather than with his family.

He was a fighter to the end, looking forward to one last battle with his trademark good humor.

“It’s funny, my father had been in the hospital in November with pneumonia and when he got out, he was making a really good recovery,” Ira Sacharoff said. “And I said to him, ‘So you want to live to 100, dad?’ And he said, ‘Well, I don’t know about that. But I have to live at least until November.’ And I said, ‘Why is that?’ And he said, ‘So I can vote against Trump.’”

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