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Pasco should engrave Leonard A. Wynn's name with other Vietnam vets

Leonard A. Wynn, 20, died in combat in Vietnam in 1967. He grew up in east Pasco, but his mother moved to St. Petersburg before he was killed.

Special to the Times

Leonard A. Wynn, 20, died in combat in Vietnam in 1967. He grew up in east Pasco, but his mother moved to St. Petersburg before he was killed.

Leonard A. Wynn's aggressiveness earned him a nickname on the football field: Skull Bonnet.

"He would rack 'em up,'' said his sister, Sandra Wilson.

It's unlikely anybody ever made fun of his middle name — twice. But these days his relatives aren't even sure where "Andrea'' came from. Time has dimmed some memories, which may be good.

Leonard grew up with four sisters, first in the rural community of Lumberton near Zephyrhills and then in Dade City. Lots of folks knew the family. John and Corrine Owens, Leonard's grandparents, were among the original black settlers in the area. They had so many children (13) that John, a log-cutter, bought his own bus to take them to school.

Leonard's mom, Varnie, raised her children alone after splitting up with her husband, but she had plenty of support from the extended family. Varnie worked every day as a seamstress for Sears or cleaning houses. "We always had plenty to eat, nice clothes to wear,'' Sandra Wilson recalled.

The sisters doted on Leonard, who despite his nature on the football field was understated and shy. He worked hard to get good grades at Mickens High School and dreamed about playing college football. But when he graduated in 1964, he found his options limited. The family moved to St. Petersburg and Leonard picked up odd jobs with little pay.

He wanted more and saw the military as a way to pay for college. He joined the Marines.

Before 1970, black kids in Pasco didn't go to school with white kids. Segregation held a firm grip throughout society. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War further polarized Americans. But Leonard A. Wynn accepted his duty and left for combat.

Cora Owens is Leonard's aunt, Varnie's sister. She's 75 and still lives in Dade City, and she remembers too well the day a Marine detachment came by her sister's house.

"It still makes me sad,'' she said.

On May 29, 1967, the 20-year-old lance corporal was walking point for his squad in Quang Nam. He stepped on a mine. The explosion killed him instantly.

• • •

So here we are 43 years later, remembering fallen heroes on this somber day — Veteran's Day. Pasco County has engraved the names of 11 soldiers killed in action in Vietnam. There are memorials at the courthouses in Dade City and New Port Richey.

But Leonard A. Wynn's name is not among them.

It's not that he has been forgotten. You can see his name etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. He's on panel 21E, line 017. And his sister Sandra has seen his name on the memorial at Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg, where she now lives.

It's quite an honor, she says, but Leonard was from Pasco County.

He had been living at his mother's house in St. Petersburg when he joined the Marines, so that must have become his home of record.

"But I'm sure if you could ask him today where he was from,'' his sister said, "it would be Dade City. He lived in that area all his life. He went to high school there.''

In 1999, the St. Petersburg Times collaborated with longtime Pasco coaches to come up with a list of the all-time top 99 high school football players in the county. Wynn was No. 50. The listing said simply, "Leonard Wynn, RB, Mickens, '64: Super quick back died on battlefield in Vietnam.

Mom Varnie died of a heart attack in 2003 while attending a family reunion in Denver. Of the 13 Owens kids, only seven remain. Each loss has been painful, and Cora Owens recalls an acute heartache that came with that knock on the door.

But today, as she thinks about her nephew and his service to the country, she describes a different emotion.

"That's what Leonard wanted to do,'' she said. "He made us proud.''

Bill Stevens is the Times' editor in Pasco County. You can reach him at (727) 869-6250 or by e-mail at [email protected]

Pasco should engrave Leonard A. Wynn's name with other Vietnam vets 11/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 8:15pm]
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