Charles Leasum was born June 23, 1894 in Blair, Tremealeau Co., WI, to Dr. Sherman Jay Leasum and Thea (Hauhkum) Leasum. He attended high school in Kahoka, MD and graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, PA in 1918.
While in Philadelphia Charles met Helen Kielkopf at a church dance. Soon after, Helen was Â“pinnedÂ”, as was the custom at colleges in that time.
When World War I broke out, Charles was inducted into the Navy as a Lieutenant Jr. Grade (LT. J. G.). Due to the Â‘flu epidemic of 1918 and the need for doctors here in the U.S. he did not serve overseas. He did however, remain in the Reserves.
On June 1, 1920, in the Chapel of the Mediator at the Holy Apostle Episcopal church, in Philadelphia, Charles Leasum and Helen Kielkopf were united in marriage. Their marriage was blessed with three children; Helen Jane, born in 1921, Thea Jay, born in 1922 and Charles Richard, born in 1924.
Dr. Leasum, who is remembered by family and friends as Â“Daddy DocÂ”, was the first contract physician on Washington Island of the tip of Door County. This was about 1922. To his wife Helen, who was a city girl and used to the amenities of flush toilets, electricity and gas, this was a primitive setting. But the two of them had pioneering spirits and shared many happy memories of those early years.
In 1926 or 1927, Dr. Leasum opened his own small, private hospital. The Leasum hospital was located at what is now the corner of Third and Michigan in Sturgeon Bay. He had a large practice that was not very profitable after the start of the Great Depression. He was often paid with bushels of potatoes or apples, a side of pork, etc. His nurses received room and board along with the promise that they would get paid when he got paid.
In 1940, with World War II on the horizon, he was notified that all doctors and dentists in the reserves would be called on for a year of service. He decided to volunteer early. Since he had switched from the Navy Reserves to the Army Reserves, sometime in the 1930Â’s, he was sent to the Philippines. He was the chief of the surgical staff at Fort McKinley Hospital when the Japanese bombed Manila.
Dr. Leasum evacuated all of the patients from the Fort McKinley Hospital and led them into the jungle where they hid. After some time they were contacted by Philippine Rangers who gave them food and water. Eventually all were captured and became part of the infamous Bataan Death March.
Dr. Leasum was captured by the Japanese on March 22, 1942 and officially listed as missing on May 21, 1942. He was held at Cabanatuan Prison Camp No. 1 until January 31, 1945 when U.S. forces liberated him and his fellow prisoners during a raid. Of the thousands of men who had been held in that camp only 345 were left. Many had died and many were sent to Japan as slave labor.
Between May 1942 when Capt. Leasum first went missing and March 1946 when Major Leasum retired from the Army, there were many articles published in the Door County Advocate. These articles chronicled what little was known about his captivity and that of the other Door county residents captured by the Japanese.
On May 29, 1942, the Door County Advocate published an article that began with these words. Â“Official notice of Door countyÂ’s fourth resident to be killed in action in World War II came this week when Atty. Herman Leasum learned that the war department has listed his brother, Capt. Charles Leasum, Â‘missingÂ’ since the surrender of the Philippines.
Then on October 22, 1942, the Door County Advocate reported that, Â“Â…the fate of Capt. Charles Leasum, Â…was lightened last week when an exchanged prisoner included his name in a memorized list of persons still alive and in Jap custody at Manila.Â” And on February 9, 1945, the Door County Advocate reported, Â“Official word that Capt. (Dr.) Charles Leasum Â‘returned to military controlÂ’ January 31 in the Philippines has been sent to Atty. Herman LeasumÂ….Â”
After returning home, Dr. Leasum was never able to resume his practice. He had beriberi, pellagra, amoebic dysentery and a bad heart. He did take a consulting position with the Veterans Association until he suffered a severe heart attack in 1951. Then he and Helen retired to Florida.
On July 29, 1965, Dr. Charles Leasum died in Florida. He was 71 years old.
Authors note: I grew up listening to stories about this man, my great-grandfather. How he took care of the sick and delivered babies, no matter what the weather was like. (Doctors still made house calls back then). I was told he had a kind and generous heart. I also heard the stories of his war years and that he had been a POW. Those stories and what I have written here are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
In college I did some research on the Bataan Death March and the prison camps in the Philippines. My research has left me in awe of the monumental cruelties visited on Â“our boysÂ” over there and the will to survive that carried those few back to the United States.
In his life time Charles Leasum was many things to many people; son, husband, father, doctor, soldier, prisoner, friend and, even though I never got to know him, Hero.