Kal Leichtman joined the Navy at 17. He survived the 1944 invasion of Normandy, and in 1945 a Pacific battle near the island of Okinawa. So young during World War II, the veteran became an elderly groom last year when he married Marilyn Ogden on the 74th anniversary of D-Day.
Leichtman died Oct. 11, a month and one day shy of his 94th birthday.
During this week of honoring veterans, the Everett man’s death is a poignant reminder that across this country families are saying final farewells to members of that Greatest Generation. My father is 96 and still lives in our family home in Spokane. With the Army’s 42nd Infantry “Rainbow” Division, he landed at Utah Beach in Normandy, France, 17 days after D-Day.
Kalman Adolph Leichtman, born Nov. 12, 1925, in New York City, left more than his loved ones and a legacy of service. He leaves the words he shared with Herald writer Jim Haley in 2008.
“I started to turn gray before I was 20,” Leichtman told Haley, who retired in 2008 after 42 years as a Herald journalist.
Leichtman, then 81, talked about his harrowing experiences while he was a radio operator and part of a gun crew aboard the USS Butler. The destroyer-minesweeper was an escort involved in the invasion of Okinawa, the largest amphibious assault in the war’s Pacific Theater.
On May 25, 1945, nine men aboard the Butler died when a 500-pound bomb from a kamikaze warplane exploded under the ship’s keel. All power aboard was lost, and another U.S. ship came to the rescue.
During the intense battle, 75 Japanese planes were shot down, five by the USS Butler’s gun crews. “In that hour and a half we were in fierce combat — it seemed like many months,” Leichtman said in 2008. He described himself as “a cocky 18-year-old” at the time.
By the time he battled in the Pacific, the young sailor was a veteran of the war in Europe. In 1943, the Butler took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily, known as “Operation Husky.”
And on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Leichtman’s ship — he called it “a tin can” — provided artillery support for U.S. troops ashore, bombarding German positions off Utah Beach. “We were in duels with German gunners who were in concrete (fortifications),” Leichtman recalled. His ship was among several that saved survivors of the USS Corry. Twenty-four men died and 60 were wounded when the Corry was sunk on D-Day.
It was just last June 6 that Leichtman married his late-in-life love, Marilyn Ogden. Both had been widowed twice and lived at Cascadian Place, the Everett retirement home where Ogden, 90, is still a resident. Leichtman wore a white floral boutonniere on one lapel and on the other a Normandy pin, signifying his D-Day duty.
“This is an historical moment for me, and of course it is for you,” Snohomish Country District Court Judge Tam Bui told the couple on their wedding day. Bui presided over the nuptials and was quoted in Andrea Brown’s Herald article about the occasion.
“It was very lovely,” Patti Fredley, Ogden’s daughter, said of her mother finding love again. “He loved my mom more than anything in the world. He would do anything for her,” said Fredley, 66, of Marysville.
Fredley said Leichtman called her his daughter, “and I called him Dad.”
After the war, Leichtman worked as a civilian at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. He earned a degree in government from the University of Hawaii in 1961, and in 1972 a master’s in business administration from Pacific Lutheran University. He and his first wife lived 35 years in Bremerton, where he worked in electronic design and engineering at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
Along with Ogden, he is survided by a son, Nathan, of Colorado.
His service to community continued long after his Navy years. In 2007, Leichtman was an adjutant with Everett’s American Legion Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson Post 6 when the club reopened after financial hardships. The group’s bank account had been drained, and a member was charged with theft in 2005 and later pleaded guilty.
Leichtman often shared his wartime experiences with school groups. In 2009 he received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Everett Police Department for volunteering with its Seniors Against Crime Program.
He was also a prolific writer of letters to the editor. Through the years, his missives published in The Herald addressed subjects as varied as his support for Israel and tougher sentences for criminals, and his disapproval of privatizing Social Security and of using cellphones while driving. Many of the letters were about issues in the Middle East.
In 1999, he gave a Memorial Day talk at Everett’s Temple Beth Or. His talk’s aim, The Herald reported, was to convey “that thousands of service people helped put an end to the Holocaust.”
“He was a proud American, a proud Jew, and a proud United States Navy veteran,” said his obituary. It added that at his request there would be no memorial service. “He will be cremated with his ashes scattered at sea,” it said.
“He was such a proud person,” said Fredley, his wife’s daughter. “He was a great guy, just a great guy. We loved him.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.