John A. Leary World War II Gallery.


Judge John A. Leary was born on May 4th, 1919, the second of four children born to John and Adelia Leary. He graduated from St. Mary’s Grammar School in 1932 and Hudson Falls High School in 1936. A graduate of Syracuse University with a BS degree, he went on to receive his LLB and JD from the Syracuse University College of Law. He began practicing law with the firm of Hart, Senior and Nichols of Utica, New York and subsequently returned to Hudson Falls where he practiced law for many years in an office over the present Evergreen Bank on Main Street.
From 1941 through 1945, Judge Leary was a pilot in the United States Naval Air Force. During his tenure in the service, he was a  recipient of the Navy Cross and has shared his World War II experiences on a number of occasions with the students of Hudson Falls High School. From 1947 through 1949 he was a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Judge Leary served the community as a Justice of the Peace and as a member of the Kingsbury Town Board and he has been the recipient of the Liberty Bell award. During his career, he has also served as county attorney, district attorney and the administrator of the Assigned Counsel Plan. He has served as a judge in Washington County Court, Surrogate Court, Family Court and State Supreme Court as assigned. Judge Leary retired in December of 1989.

Judge Leary expressed tremendous pride in his Hudson Falls roots. The community was fortunate indeed to have another of its native sons return to the community that fostered his ideals. His interest in flying, originating during World War II, remained a constant – occasionally he could be seen taking off from Warren County Airport. He had three sons, two of whom are members of the area medical community and one who is an accomplished artist.

Judge Leary passed away on October 8, 2003.

From the book:

John A. Leary was born in Hudson Falls in 1919, and finished high school in 1936. As a kid he was interested with events unfolding in Europe, and kept a scrapbook of world events that would later prove to be prescient in regard to what destiny had planned for him. Like many boys, he was fascinated by flight and the dashing aces of World War I, and in hanging around a local airfield, he got the feel for the canvas-covered biplanes of that age. The old hands took a liking to him, and John was taught the rudiments of flying at age twelve.

After high school, young John tried to enlist to fly, but his father put an end to that idea, for a time. Instead, he went to Syracuse University and immediately upon graduation in June, 1941, was accepted into the Naval Air Service. A year later, he was commissioned as a Navy pilot and mastered aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings, first in the Aleutian Islands, sometimes flying by instruments due to the dense fog and darkness, calculating life and death mathematical readings in his head to get him back to the ship. In a 2001 seminar, he offered his perspective on these first major naval engagements in the Pacific.

John A. Leary

Midway was the turning point of the war. We had been at the Battle of the Coral Sea where we lost the carrier USS Lexington. The Yorktown was badly damaged, but anyway, the Japanese did not continue to invade New Guinea or Australia.

Days later, after Coral Sea, when we arrived at Pearl Harbor we thought we were going home because the Yorktown was so badly damaged. But Admiral Nimitz had other ideas and he outranked most of us [laughter from audience]. They put on civilian workers to repair the damage and when the Yorktown sailed 72 hours later, it had quite a few civilian workers still aboard repairing. They never mentioned their losses in the war.

The Yorktown was lost at Midway.

Yorktown was hit again at Midway and they did abandon ship, but she stayed afloat and looked like she could make it, so about 200 men went back on board and unfortunately they were still on it when it was taken down by a submarine. But the battle was won principally, I think from our intelligence, because we outmaneuvered and outsmarted the Japanese… But with the help of God the battle was won by the American carrier pilots, and [those] on Yorktown went over and landed on Enterprise, some on Hornet. So we were holding our own, and later I ended up at Guadalcanal, not too long after the Marines landed.


John A. Leary, was particularly fond of the Marines on the ground that he would protect, flying missions out of the newly secured Henderson Field for months and inching forward with the Marines on death-dealing raids under heavy fire.

With one very short leave, we went from Guadalcanal and we ended up on Bougainville, so we covered the Solomon Islands [by air], all of them. And that cut the Japanese off because it destroyed their largest base at Rabaul Harbor, on New Britain. Rabaul had five Japanese airfields, a great harbor and we could hit it from Bougainville, and we did.

Rabaul hosted hundreds of Japanese fighter planes and tens of thousands of troops. In November, 1943, John Leary and his fellow pilots of squadron VC-38 [composed of fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo planes] commenced attacks in support of the Marine Corps landings below at Bougainville and hitting supporting bases nearby. Bombing and strafing Japanese positions at Empress Augusta Bay on the 14th, 18 torpedo bomber fighters hit Imperial Japanese Army positions with pinpoint precision within 100 yards of the attacking Marines.
A radioman of his group recorded in his war diary: ‘November 14, 1943—Attack Jap ground troops in the Empress Augusta Bay Region. Our ground troops had too much to handle so we dropped our hundred lb. bombs by their direction. We killed about 300 Japs and those who were still alive were stunned so that our troops just stuck them with a knife…’
Two nights later Leary was back in a night attack, sowing mines in the Buka Passage. For the next several weeks he and his radioman and gunner would be bombing and strafing Japanese positions in support of the ground campaign below. On December 13th, he made a lone attack at heavy anti-aircraft positions on Puk Puk Island, scoring a direct hit with a 2000 lb. bomb and successfully setting a radar building afire with his .50–caliber guns. At one point during his missions, Leary’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft shrapnel, and a four-lb. glowing shard lodged in his cockpit near his foot as he focused on guiding the plane back to base at Munda in New Georgia.
On February 17, 1944, Leary was part of a mission of two dozen tor-pedo bombers to attack Japanese naval vessels near Rabaul. Diving in at masthead level, Leary’s plane scored a direct hit with a 2000 lb. bomb on a packed Japanese cargo ship.

John A. Leary

Those ships were reported by one of our submarines and they couldn’t do anything about it because they had just finished up a patrol and were out of torpedoes. They followed these people with their naval escort into Rabaul Harbor. We were then called because we were the oldest outfit there. We were briefed, then set out somewhere around midnight, we hit them around dawn….I was probably about 55, or 70 feet above the ship…

Matthew Rozell: They could look up and see you if they wanted to. Were they firing at you pretty heavily?

Yes, they were, and it’s rather difficult to fly when you have a rosary in each hand. I took more fellas in with me than I brought home that day, unfortunately. So the score wasn’t ‘twelve to nothing’. I was about 23 or 24. It was the principal Japanese airbase. They had five Japanese airfields defending it. They had about 200 to 250 Japanese fighters there, which could have been interesting. I was banged up a bit, but always made it back.

For his actions against Rabaul and elsewhere in the South Pacific, Leary was a recipient of the Silver Star and also the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor.