Lake George native Richard LeBlanc enlisted in the U.S. Army because he admired his older brother and had no desire to take his advice.
“I chose the Army mostly because my older brother told me not to,” he said, smiling. “He was already enlisted with the 82nd Airborne and I looked up to him. He didn’t want me to go through what he did, but like brothers do, I didn’t listen. I wanted to be like him.”
LeBlanc enlisted right after he graduated from Lake George High School in 1961. He went to Fort Knox in Kentucky for basic training. LeBlanc then entered the Ordnance Department, with the broad mission of supplying Army combat units with weapons and ammunition, as well as overseeing their procurement and maintenance.
LeBlanc was shipped to West Germany in 1962 to serve during the Berlin crisis and was stationed at Warner Kaserne in Munich, which was a massive base that held thousands of soldiers.
“At first I was in the motor pool. I was a basic mechanic for Army vehicles. I was always good with my hands and enjoyed that kind of work,” he said.
Part of LeBlanc’s deployment was on Temporary Duty Assignment as a member of a special division that traveled from base to base repairing and rebuilding tank engines.
“There were about 20 guys in my TDY and I loved the work. Sometimes we’d have to strip the engine right down to the crankshaft and rebuild it. I’d go chase spare parts often, and I’d take off like a rabbit to find them,” he said.
LeBlanc’s TDY division was a high spot of his deployment, where he was able to work closely with men from all over the U.S.
“It was a great group of men. We were from all over: California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, West Virginia. Conditions were real simple for living. We’d live out of a suitcase and sleep in basements or attics – wherever there was room. Then we’d be off to the next base,” he said.
Much of his time in West Germany was steeped in downtime and camaraderie – elements he really enjoyed.
“We never saw combat. We played a lot of cards in our bunks, pinochle and poker mostly. I was with a really good bunch of guys. We stuck together and never went looking for trouble,” he said.
LeBlanc called Munich the “Hollywood” of the Berlin crisis. He would get dressed up and go out at night with other soldiers, though at times they were not warmly received.
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“Most were happy we were there. But sometimes guys would pick fights with us. My buddies were 6’5” and 6’6”, so not many tried. We’d stay out of trouble because we didn’t want to hear about it again back at base. Only a few times it got hairy,” he said.
LeBlanc returned to the states in 1964 and met and married his wife, Martha, that same year. When the couple learned Martha was pregnant, LeBlanc decided not to re-enlist.
“The baby coming put the brakes on everything. I’ve now been married 55 years,” he said.
LeBlanc returned to work in the boatyard where he was employed prior to the Army. He made his career as a master mechanic and craftsman, restoring antique wooden boats from engine to mast.
“I began there when I was 14, for $2.75 an hour and worked my way up the ladder,” he said.
The couple have two daughters who still live locally.
Martha, Richard’s wife, was the first woman to get elected to the Lake George Village Board.
“She outdid me in her own career, and rightly so. She’s always been smarter than me,” he said.
LeBlanc, now 78, lives at the Warren Center in Queensbury. He is an avid Red Sox fan and enjoys time with his family and grandchildren.
LeBlanc said his experience in the Army was a positive one.
“It taught me how to grow up, how to get along, and to appreciate what’s ahead. It also taught me how to play cards and when to duck in a fight,” he said, smiling.