By Lori Kerns, AFRH-G Librarian
Leonard A. Priel, the fourth child of seven siblings, was born in 1933 on a dairy farm situated on the southwest corner of the state of New York. He and his family were responsible for milking 60 head of cattle, twice a day. Leonard attended elementary school in a one room school house until he went on to high school in Springville, NY. During high school, he played the trumpet and bass for the school marching band.
After graduating, Leonard began working for Bethlehem Steel Corp. Once the steel workers began talking of strikes, he decided to join the Air Force. He was sent to basic training at Sampson Air Force Base in NY. After basic, he attended auto mechanics school in Cheyenne, WY. However, he would never use this training while in the Air Force. Instead, he was trained in Madison, WI to work on steam turbine and diesel generating power plants. During the eight-week course, he and his fellow classmates lived in Milwaukee, WI in a WWII penitentiary. They used the former office spaces as bedrooms. Once he completed his training, Leonard was sent to French Morocco and assigned to a six-man radio communications site to work as the generator maintenance operator.
Leonard’s next duty station was in California at Castle Air Force Base. Here, he was assigned to the flight line aircraft ground equipment maintenance. This is where he went through many different types of training like hydraulics, ground heaters, aircraft engines, and jet engines. While in California he met a “sweet young lady” named Andy Jane. The couple got married and left the West Coast when he got transferred to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts to work in standby generator maintenance.
In 1960, he was deployed to Johnson Air Force Base in Japan. He was assigned to the 1st MOB (mobile communication unit) where he worked in generator maintenance. Then, for the next few years, Leonard was sent to Vietnam, Thailand, and then reassigned to the Philippines as part of the expeditionary forces to set up mobile communications. While in the Philippines, his first child, a daughter, was born. The young family got transferred back to California where they only stayed for 11 months. His duty at Travis Air Force Base was cut short as he had been chosen, because he was in the top 1% in his career field, to work at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, DC. The move was hectic as his wife was expecting their second child, a son. Once at Andrews, Leonard was assigned to Presidential Wing 89th Special Air Missions where he worked with Air Force One and other aircraft for the President. He stayed at Andrews for ten years working for Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. In the meantime, his second son was born. In 1973, Leonard finally retired from the Air Force.
Upon retirement, Leonard decided to attend preacher school in Texas. He became a part-time preacher for the next 20 years while working full time in Lubbock, TX as a school maintenance supervisor. He decided to retire from the school and his preaching career and went to Alaska. Here, he began another career working for the state parks. Leonard and Andy Jane decided to sell their home to live in an RV as he continued working for the national forest. Sadly, he lost his wife after the couple had been married for 55 years. Over the years, the couple’s children have provided them with four grandsons, three granddaughters, five great-grandsons and one great-granddaughter.
After 15 years with the state parks, Leonard decided to move to AFRH-G. His selling point for moving to the home was that the rooms are bigger than his RV and he wanted to enjoy the comradery. He still enjoys travelling and will spend most of this summer visiting family for birthdays, reunions, and anniversaries. Living in the home, he spends much of his time as a Movie Host with at least two screenings per week. He’s definitely a valuable asset to AFRH-G as he’s always happy to volunteer. His sweet demeanor is one you cannot miss!