Leonard Morris Witcher, age 99, WWII veteran and public educator, passed away Saturday, August 28, 2021 surrounded by his family.
A military honors ceremony will be performed in Roswell at the General Douglas L. McBride Veterans Cemetery at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8, followed by a memorial service at First Baptist Church of Artesia at 2:00 p.m. officiated by Ty Houghtaling.
Leonard was born April 24, 1922 in Quitaque, Texas to J. T. Witcher and Ada (Morris) Witcher. His family later moved to Lovington, NM before eventually settling in Roswell, NM.
Leonard Witcher decided to join the Army National Guard during his senior year at Roswell High School. He was just 17 years old. Before he finished high school, war was declared and his National Guard unit was called up for active duty. He served as acting platoon sergeant in the 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX. After completing Infantry Officer Candidate School, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry.
Leonard was deployed in October of 1942 and spent time in New Zealand, New Guinea, Luzon, Philippines, the Solomon Islands, and was in the battle for the Guadalcanal. He was awarded the Silver Star for heroic action during his time in Luzon, Philippines, and the Bronze Star for bravery while in the Solomon Islands. After nearly three years in the South Pacific, Leonard returned home and remained in the Army Reserve, finishing his career as a Lt. Colonel.
Upon the conclusion of the war, Leonard, at age 23, became the oldest student in the senior class of 1945 at Roswell High School. Since his reserve unit had been called up before he graduated, he elected to return and get his diploma. After receiving his high school diploma, Leonard went on to attend college at New Mexico Teacher’s College (now Western NM State University) where he met his wife Eva Ann and received his master’s degree in education and administration. Leonard and Eva Ann were married August 1, 1948 and recently celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary.
Leonard started teaching arts and crafts in the Artesia schools in 1949 and continued his career there until his retirement in 1980. He also served as Assistant Principal of Artesia High School, was one of the organizers of the Recreation Committee which started the boy’s and girl’s summer recreation programs in Artesia, and served as Student Council Advisor at Artesia High School from 1957 to 1970.
Upon his retirement, Leonard was able to enjoy his passion for oil painting and wood working and serving at the First Presbyterian Church of Artesia. His favorite “hobby” throughout his life was engaging and communicating with people. Leonard appreciated people in much of the same manner that he appreciated art. He valued them for the differences and uniqueness that each person brought.
He was elected to the Western New Mexico University “Education Hall of Fame” in 1993. After his retirement from teaching, Leonard served as Veterans Service Officer for Eddy County, and remained active in the VFW.
Mr. Witcher is survived by his wife, Eva Ann, three children: James Witcher, Paul Witcher, and Susan Needham and her husband Lewis; and 3 grandchildren: Jennifer Houghtaling and her husband Ty, Corey Needham and his wife Robin, and Stephanie Witcher and 4 great-grandchildren: Clay and Cael Houghtaling, Landon and Colin Needham.
He was preceded in death by his parents, two sisters: Geneva Gwartney and Olean Dollihan, one brother: Dick Witcher, and one great grand-daughter: Kayci Houghtaling.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Chase Foundation, 2103 W. Main, Artesia, NM, 88210 or the charity of your choice.