Kenneth Leuer: Hawkeye Legend and American Hero

Feb. 1, 2013

Jan. 30, 2013

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — In 1974, United States Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams was looking for a person strong enough to lead the most elite fighting unit in the world – a Gold Medal infantry that personified the height of professionalism in global armed forces. He was looking for a person to resurrect the Army Rangers.

It didn’t have to be a consensus agreement; it was Abrams’ decision to make because the Army adheres to a disciplined chain of command – senior man responsible: once you see it, once you touch it, you own it.

Abrams had only one man in mind for the position when he delivered the final word, “Tell Leuer he’s the man.”

Major General Kenneth Leuer – a 32-year military veteran, former NCAA wrestling national champion, and a 1956 graduate of the University of Iowa – had his orders.

“I got a phone call that brigadier General Bill Richardson wanted to see me,” recalled Leuer. “So I went up to his office and he asked me if I was interested in commandeering a Ranger battalion?”

“I said, ‘Yes sir, but we don’t have a Ranger battalion.’

“He said, ‘We’re going to have one, and we got a call from Abrams’ office that he wants us to seriously consider you to be the commander.’

“I said, ‘I don’t know why you’re asking me the question. It’s pretty obvious there is no choice and I certainly want to do it.'”

The United States Army was “on its butt” when Abrams made the decision to activate the Ranger Battalion. The U.S. had just withdrawn from the Vietnam War, the draft had ended, and the country was in disarray. Changes were necessary, and the Chief of Staff assigned Leuer the task of selecting 600 men from the Volunteer Army to produce a battalion comprised of the finest soldiers in the world.

“We did that when times were pretty tough,” said Leuer. “We activated, trained, and met all the standards and expectations that were laid out. In fact, I think we may have surpassed all of them by more than they thought we would, because today we have a Ranger regimen that has three battalions, and they’re still known as the finest soldiers in the world.”

The immediate success of the battalion earned Major General Leuer the label, “Father of the modern day Rangers,” homage to Colonel William O. Darby, who was tabbed “Father of the Rangers” during the WWII era.

“Commanding in combat is critical in one’s career,” said Leuer. “You take your chances for sure with both life and success, but if you do it right, and do it successfully, good things happen.”

Military combat wasn’t Leuer’s first taste of success. A two-time Minnesota state wrestling champion at Wayzata High School, Leuer followed former Hawkeye coach Dave McCuskey to the University of Iowa in 1952. Four years later he capped a perfect senior season with the 191-pound NCAA championship.

“There were many times in some of my military training that I thought I was up in the wrestling room and we were doing 30-second goes,” said Leuer. “There are a lot of comparisons as far as both mental and physical challenge.

“Wrestling is a sport that if you don’t commit 100-percent and dedicate yourself to the requirements and the needs, you’re not going to make it. I kind of headed for the elite top forces, and wrestling and the discipline required is the same kind of discipline necessary in the ranger family of military forces – special ops, special forces, and airborne.”

Leuer returns to campus tonight when the Hawkeyes recognize him as honorary captain prior to their dual against Penn State.

“I’m deeply honored,” Leuer said of his visit to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “I know the introduction is going to make my heart beat fast, and somehow, I’m not sure how I’ll do it, by action or salute, I want to say ‘thank you, Iowa!’

“It’s a good place to be with a strong influence of doing things right. I’m glad that I’m here and still around to enjoy it.”