Sept. 16, 1920 – Dec. 7, 2017
Alfred T. “Oppy” Leous wanted to join the Army to fight in World War II, but his brother-in-law, Dick Willett, who was married to his twin sister, Olive Jean, told him how unhappy he was in the Army and suggested finding another branch of the service.
“I went to the Coast Guard, and they said I was too short, which – at 5 feet, 2 inches – I guess I was,” he told Buffalo News reporter Lou Michel in 2013. “Then I went to the Marines, and they didn’t want me because I had a bad ear. I went to the Navy and they took me.”
Mr. Leous, a longtime Town of Tonawanda resident, died in Elderwood at Williamsville on the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was 97.
Born in Buffalo, his sister nicknamed him as a toddler when he mispronounced her nickname “Ahgee” instead of “O.J.” He attended Bennett High School, where he played baseball and football, and spent his final high school year at the Nichols School, where he was on the hockey team.
He briefly attended St. Bonaventure University, but returned home to help in Leous Furriers, which his family established in 1897.
Within four months of enlisting in the Navy, he was aboard the USS Suwannee, supporting the invasion of the North African coast, which began Nov. 8, 1942.
“We were off the coast of Casablanca in Morocco,” he said. “I worked on the quarterdeck refueling destroyers and cruisers. The Suwannee had been a tanker before it was converted to an escort carrier.”
When the invasion ended, the Suwannee sailed off to the war in the Pacific. He narrowly escaped death in a kamikaze attack during the Battle of the Philippines in October 1944, when a Japanese plane crashed into the ship 20 feet away from him while he was manning a deck gun. Miraculously, he was unhurt.
“He spent a lot of time at sea,” his son Paul said. “He went over the Equator 50-some times.”
Later he took part in the Battle of Okinawa and, on his 25th birthday in 1945, the Navy gave him and his crewmates a chance to walk briefly around Nagasaki to see the destruction from the atomic bomb 5½ weeks earlier.
“There was still smoke coming from the ground,” he told Michel.
Returning from service, he became a partner in Leous Furriers.
“It was a fabulous business,” his son said. “It was right next to Shea’s Buffalo. The vault where they stored the furs is the workshop for Shea’s.
“He was the furrier. He took the pelts and matched them. It’s an art. It’s a real art and he matched them just perfectly. He would go to New York City and buy them.”
After the family closed the business in the mid 1970s, he worked briefly for Trico, then was a salesman for Dekdebrun Sporting Goods in Northtown Plaza until the 1990s. Later he was a bus driver for the Sweet Home Central School District.
He was an avid golfer and hockey player.
He attended reunions of his Navy shipmates and always was ready to talk about his service.
In addition to his twin sister, Olive Jean Willett, survivors include his wife of 68 years, the former Marguerite E. Schlau, a former clerk at Ulbrich’s in downtown Buffalo; three sons, Paul, Mark and John; a brother, Richard; and two granddaughters. Another brother, Roger, died in August.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10:45 a.m. Jan. 6 in St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 1085 Englewood Ave., Town of Tonawanda.