Leroy Essadoah, the oldest living Comanche who served in WWII, turns 97
By KATIE STANDLEE | The Norman (Okla.) Transcript | Published: August 25, 2019
NORMAN, Okla. (Tribune News Service) — Leroy Essadoah, the older of two Comanches still living who served in World War II, turns 97 today.
He was drafted into the military in January 1943 during World War II and he served as a glider mechanic until the war ended. His last mission was taking parachutists to the front lines when Allied forces invaded southern France.
Essadoah’s mother was English and Irish and his father, who died when his was two, was Comanche. He said he thanks the good Lord everyday that his mother valued education and that the Lord kept him healthy over all of these years.
“Growing up as a Comanche was hard, but as I got older, everything became better,” Essadoah said. “Back in the ’20s, it was different than when it was when I graduated in the ’40s.”
When he was little, he said, he didn’t want to go to school, but he wanted to learn to be a farmer. His mother said that’s fine, but he had to be an educated farmer and she enrolled him in school, Essadoah said.
Essadoah didn’t go to the school for Native Americans at Fort Sill, and he, his brother and sister, and a Hispanic boy were the only minorities in his grade school. He said he was picked on in school until he won a race in fourth grade in 1933. After that, he said, everyone looked up to him.
“When mother took me to first grade to enroll, I got scared. I saw all of those white boys and girls and their parents and they just looked at me like, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” Essadoah said. “When I won first in the 50-yard dash — I still have that little gold medal — things changed and I was kind of a hero in school.”
After winning, he said his coach told him to stick with athletics. Essadoah played basketball throughout junior high and was part of a state championship high school football team. He grew up in Lawton and went to the University of Oklahoma for one semester before being drafted.
The military sent him to the Shepard Air Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he went to glider school. He became a glider mechanic and served in many places.
“What we did was train glider pilots and airborne troops and move troops here to there. Then we finally went overseas in November of 1943,” Essadoah said. “I wound up in North Africa and Sicily, Italy, and we trained airborne troops over there and parachutists. When they wanted troops there,, we would put them in the gliders and the C-47s.”
When he got back to the states, Essadoah used the G.I. Bill to return to college. He knew he wanted to be a coach and a teacher and attended Central State University, now known as the University of Central Oklahoma, in Edmond.
Essadoah will celebrate another milestone in November. He and his wife, Betty, will celebrate their 71st anniversary.
He said he first saw Betty while attending the university. He lived in Tatcher Hall and as he walked to the campus cafeteria, he watched the P.E. class play tennis.
“I thought, ‘She’s the worst tennis player I have ever seen,’ ” Essadoah said of his wife with a laugh. “Then there was a Sadie Hawkins dance that would come around every year, and that’s where the girls could ask the boys to dance.”
He said he saw Betty from across the room and she came up and asked him to dance. He couldn’t dance, he said, but he was so excited to see that awkward girl who was playing tennis the other day.
“There was a dance at the girls’ dorm, and he was over there and I was there. We just met, started dancing together, and we’ve been together ever since,” Betty Essadoah said.
The Essadoahs married right after graduating in 1948 and taught together for several years. They also had two boys, Kevin and Ken, along the way.
“When we got married, we didn’t know anything. We didn’t know any better when we got married,” Essadoah said. “It lasted all these years.”
The Essadoahs eventually settled down in Seiling in 1962 to teach some more, but this time, Leroy also was a coach and an elementary school principal. He coached the high school football team to the state championship in 1965 and was named Dewey County Teacher of the Year in 1968.
They lived in Seiling for 30 years. He retired from teaching in 1982 and moved the family to Norman in 1992. He said that to this day, he and his wife stay active and go to the YMCA almost every day. He added he continues to thank the Lord for their health and life.
Today, Essadoah and his family will head to IHOP to celebrate his birthday.