Ex-paratrooper Leonard Funk, the Pittsburgh district's most decorated hero of World War II, has developed an aversion to height. Last June, he climbed a ladder to fix a pulley atop a 45-foot flagpole at his mountain retreat in Emporium in Cameron County.
"When I was at the top, the flagstaff snapped," he explained. "I came down like a paratrooper --- feet first. The impact smashed my left heel, injured the ankle and fractured my left shoulder.
Funk, one of America's 289 surviving Medal of Honor winners, said it was "the biggest scare" of his life.
As a member of the fighting 82nd Airborne Division during World War II, Funk hit the silks 33 times on combat missions without a mishap. Today, at 60, he's stepping off nothing higher than a curb.
Time has mellowed the old warrior. During the Allied invasion of Europe, Funk was a one-man
army, a fearless fighter who won all sorts of medals for bravery.
Today, his hair is gray. He's a bit portly. And since the flagpole incident, he has become cautious about taking undue risks.
But he's proud as ever about his Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for bravery. It puts him in distinguished company. Honor medalists include Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles A. Lindbergh and Sgt. Alvin C. York plus scores of others whose exploits have made history.
Once every four years, ceremonial recognition is given by the government to Medal of Honor recipients. "We get invited to presidential inaugurations," said Funk, who lives at 1412 Brinton Road, Braddock Hills. "We get the VIP, red carpet treatment in Washington."
Funk plus 196 other honor medalists was on hand for the Carter inauguration Jan. 20. All of them were on the inaugural platform in front of the Capitol, elbow to elbow with the dignitaries, as Chief Justice Warren Burger administered the oath of office to Jimmy Carter.
It was my sixth inaugural," Funk said, explaining that Uncle Sam pays to fly medalists to Washington and put them up in hotels. "Every four years they make us feel pretty important," said Funk. "We look forward to it." There was one exception in recent times. At President Johnson's 1965 inaugural, the red carpet was not rolled out. The invitation sent to Medal of Honor men included no special seats among the VIPs and no tickets to the gala balls. . "I didn't go," Funk said, mostly because the Johnson administration made it clear that it wanted to emphasize achievements of peace rather than the memory of wartime heroics."
Mr. Carter's announcement of plans to grant amnesty to Vietnam draft evaders took some of the shine off last month's ceremonies for the honor medalists.
"When we arrived in Washington, the veterans organizations were denouncing the proposal," said Funk. "Carter skipped the formal dinner arranged for us and Vice President Mondale substituted for him."
Funk, who is now a pensioner after having worked 25 years for the Veterans Administration, also holds the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and Belgium's Croix de Guerre.
It would have pleased him if he could have marched right down Pennsylvania Avenue last month when President Carter took his now-famous stroll along the flag decked thoroughfare. "I rode in a limousine in the big parade," Funk said. Anyhow, his bum leg still bothers him. "I guess my parading days are over," he said.