When Private Leo Maiolo enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917, America had just entered the sprawling conflict that had consumed Europe since 1914. A native of Italy, the former chauffeur was among hundreds of thousands of immigrants who joined the swelling American Expeditionary Forces headed for the Western Front. After training stateside, Private Maiolo was assigned to Company A, 9th Infantry Regiment, a component of the vaunted 2nd Infantry Division, known as the “Indianheads.”
In the spring of 1918, now part of the battle-ready 2nd Division, Private Maiolo and his comrades landed in France. They entered the trenches at a pivotal moment in the Great War. That March, the German Army had unleashed its massive Spring Offensive, seeking victory before more American troops could deploy. Private Maiolo spent months engaging in bloody trench warfare, defending against relentless German attacks. Shelled constantly amid the mud and vermin, he learned the realities of combat.
By summer 1918, the Allies halted the German advance. Now on the offensive, Private Maiolo participated in the Second Battle of the Marne, where his 9th Infantry and the rest of the 2nd Division helped destroy the ragged German salient. They then drove towards the Saint-Mihiel salient, a German-held bulge in the lines. In September, his unit attacked there, wiping out the salient in the first fully American-run operation of the war. The green troops had passed their test.
Private Maiolo’s division stayed on the offensive, moving northwest to join the massive Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It was near here, in the Meuse River valley surrounding the fortress town of Toul, where Private Maiolo’s war would end. His 9th Infantry, battle-tested but depleted after months of grueling combat, moved up to the entrenched positions outside Toul. Just 600 feet from the enemy lines, Private Maiolo manned his post, awaiting orders to continue the advance.
On a fall day in 1918, with victory tantalizingly close after four long years of war, a German hand grenade arced into Private Maiolo’s trench. The blast tore into his body, nearly severing his left leg and slashing his arms and hands. But Private Maiolo had endured for his adopted nation. Dragged to a dugout, he awaited evacuation to a field hospital. Despite infections setting in, he made it to recovery.
For his selfless service, Private Leo Maiolo paid a high price – his left leg and permanent scars. But he helped the inexperienced Americans come of age on the Western Front. His division spearheaded the final American offensives of 1918 that broke the German Army’s resistance. Barely a year after deploying, as Private Maiolo convalesced back home, his efforts culminated in Germany’s surrender that November. For this Italian immigrant, America’s fight had also become his own.
Private Maiolo’s serious wounds entitled him to return home permanently. But despite his sacrifice, he continued serving the nation he had adopted. The Army recognized in him a powerful symbol of the immigrant soldiers who comprised over 10% of the doughboys. After recuperating stateside, Private Maiolo joined a nationwide effort to finance America’s war machine – the Liberty Loan program.
Massive wartime expenditures necessitated these Liberty Bond drives to fund the war effort. Private Maiolo offered living proof of the sacrifices required for victory. Traveling in his uniform, walking with a cane due to his missing limb, his mutilated body spoke more eloquently than any speech.
For the 3rd Liberty Loan in September 1918, Private Maiolo toured towns throughout the Upper Midwest. Appearing at rallies and bond drives, he put a human face on the sacrifices being made by troops abroad. His presence reminded citizens at home of their duty to financially support the men in uniform who were giving life and limb on their behalf.
Though America had quickly raised vast armies, she had to rely on her industrial and agricultural might to sustain them. Private Maiolo’s solemn figure reinforced how every dollar loaned or donated could spare soldiers from deprivation and death. The bonds purchased would put machine guns in doughboys’ hands, bandages on the wounded, and food in empty bellies.
After months of carnage, with war-weariness setting in, the visceral evidence of Private Maiolo’s sacrifice helped reenergize citizens. His mangled frame embodied the urgent need to furnish funds so America’s citizen-soldiers could finish the fight.
Though likely not a skilled orator due to his Italian roots, Private Maiolo’s example spoke louder than stirring speeches. He needed few words to convey that, even with victory in sight, the nation must stay the course until the bitter end. Until the German war machine was smashed and Kaiser Wilhelm deposed, money must continue flowing across the Atlantic, whether to heal broken bodies or for fresh regiments to feed the guns.
Private Maiolo’s presence periodically revived flagging spirits. Mothers gazing at his empty pants leg were reminded of their own boys in harm’s way. His silence amid cheering crowds rendered more eloquent testimony than any slogan. Halting on his cane before audiences, injuries untreated so all could see, Private Maiolo personified resilience and quiet courage.
When the guns fell silent in November 1918, Private Maiolo had given two pounds of flesh to help purchase victory. Though America had entered the war late, the doughboys like him ensured Germany’s defeat. His journey reflected the hundreds of thousands who traded tranquility and health for trench foot, poison gas, and shrapnel. Over 50,000 Americans never returned, giving the ultimate sacrifice.
For those who survived, scars concealed and unconcealed served as lifelong reminders. Private Maiolo bore his sacrifices quietly, returning to civilian life in Watertown, NY with his head held high. His Liberty Loan service showed that though battle may end, dedicated veterans continue serving their country in other ways.
After the war, Private Maiolo worked for over 30 years at General Crushed Stone in Watertown, NY. He married Esther Constantine, born in Alexandria Bay, NY, and they raised three children together – Leon, Jody, and Fanny. He became a proud American citizen, living on Central Avenue in Watertown. Known for his thick Italian accent, Private Maiolo loved gardening and was an active member of the Northside Improvement League community group.
Though he saw brutal combat, Private Maiolo lived to age 72, passing away in 1965. The elder Maiolo’s son, Leon Maiolo Sr. followed in his footsteps, serving in World War II, as did his son in law Karl Hammond who fought together in the same unit as Leon Maiolo Sr. Additionally, Leon Maiolo Sr.’s son, Leon Maiolo Jr. served in the Army Honor Guard in Washington DC. Despite the passage of time, three generations of the Maiolo family did their duty when called.
In the 1920s, the era’s prosperity let America turn inward once more to isolationism. But in Europe, poppies continued to bloom between the scarred battlefields where a generation lay buried. As those fiery days faded from memory, it was up to veterans like Leo Maiolo to remind his adopted land of its trials in the Great War. Thanks to the sacrifices of doughboys on the Western Front, America earned its place at the table of powers. From the trenches of Toul to the hometown parades on Armistice Day, he and his comrades had represented their nation with honor. Their enduring legacy helped inspire the next generation to liberate humanity once again when liberty’s trumpet called.