Posted by: Bonnie Phelps | May 3, 2022

Bill Leibold, one of America’s Heros

Remembering a great man on Palomar Mountain

With Love and Honor

A very respected neighbor for many years on Palomar was born April 4, 1923. William R. Leibold had the most interesting life, retiring as a Navy Commander. With his lovely wife, Grace, they built a home on the Mountain in the shape of a ship, and enjoyed it for many years. He passed away three weeks prior to his 99th birthday on March 11, 2022.

Over the years I had the pleasure of meeting Bill and Grace’s two sons and a daughter.

Daughter, Ericka, sent this note:
From: Ericka Waidley
Subject: Bill Leibold’s passing
I wanted to let you know that Dad passed, peacefully in his sleep, on Friday (3/11/22).  Bill (Junior), Jim and I (and Bill’s wife, Marie) were there for several days before he passed and I truly believe he knew we were there and was ready to let go. We also had time to organize his belongings and retrieve all of the papers, etc. that will be needed as we move forward, just as he would have liked it!  He and Mom always shared such wonderful stories of their time on Palomar Mountain and we all have fond memories of our visits there. I even took my Girl Scout troop camping on the mountain and we drove by the old homestead several years ago.  We had a wonderful time!
His wishes were to have his ashes buried at sea, so the arrangements have been made with the Navy in San Diego.  They will let us know when the ceremony occurs and send us a videotape and the honorary flag.  We are all sure they will do a wonderful ceremony that honors Dad’s service. I am putting together a memorial card to send out so if you would like to receive it, please send me your address.

From the back of the card:

“Bill “Boats” Leibold was career military, serving 30 years in the US Navy. He joined in 1940 at 17 years of age. After recruit training, he was assigned to the USS Pruitt, in Pearl Harbor, HI. On December 7, 1941, Leibold manned the deck guns, where he as injured with shrapnel to his hand. I 1943 it was assigned to the USS Tang.

The USS Tang was a decorated war submarine. On 10/25/44, the Tang sank as a result of a faulty torpedo. Of the 13 men who made it to the surface, only nine survived and were picked up by a Japanese destroyer. Bill later received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroic conduct. The prisoners were released after 11 brutal months in war camps. He received the Bronze Star and the Prisoner of War medal for his service.

During his Navy career, he was highly regarded as a diving expert and was involved in forming the Navy Seal teams. He was Captain of the USS Greenlet ASR, CO of the Experimental Diving Unit in Washington DC, and of the Deep Submergence Submarine Rescue Vessel Project in San Diego. In addition to his other honors, Bill received two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, Navy Commendation Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.

He was a loving husband and wonderful father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He will be missed by all of those who had the honor of knowing him.”

We met Bill and Grace when we moved back to Palomar in 1998. Soon after, Palomar Mountain News was began as an email broadcast. My first message sharing a little about Bill’s service to our country and their lives together was on D-Day, December 7, 2004. It was sent to my subscribers via email but also included as part of several blog posts. Over the years, I eventually helped the Leibolds sell their beloved ‘Ship House’ (Photos taken May 2022) and downsize to a home in Escondido. That was sold when Bill moved to a nice retirement community where friends lived. Occasionally during our visits I would take photos and share some of his Navy life through PMNews. I include here a couple other posts mentioning Bill and Grace, too:

Presumed Lost in WWII – 2010 and 2004

Bill’s Snow Plow Tip – 2013

Memorial Day and Bill – 2014

Pearl Harbor to Palomar 2016

Memorial Day 2017

A Visit with a Pearl Harbor Survivor 2018

Grace should have been a Realtor

Witness to WWII History 2020

Because the power of Google, I’ve been contacted by quite a few folks interested in Bill’s story over the years. I would always call and ask Bill if it was ok to give his contact info. Sometimes he’d rather not, we’d talk a little more, and occasionally I’d offer to be the go-between for a bit. He’d joke and call me his ‘agent’. I loved every minute of my time with Bill.

I’ve had the Memorial card from Ericka for a couple weeks. Today, this text came in:

“My name is Jaxon Hekkenberg, I am a 16 year old student from Toronto Canada. I am sending you this text because I have been interviewing WWII veterans for the past 11 months and saw that you know William Leibold …”

Yes, I did have the pleasure in knowing Bill. He would have loved to talk to Jaxon and tell him how pleased he was to hear from a young man interested in first-hand military history. It was every important to Bill that “nothing but the truth was told” in the several books in print and at the USS Tang Museum that Bill provided input for. He proof-read all my posts before I published. He would have appreciated Jaxon’s quest to seek out the men and women who lived to tell their stories of their time serving our country.

Jaxon, within these posts are the exact words from the last survivor of the USS Tang. You are invited to share with honor and respect to one of our true American Heros.

Bonnie Phelps

Palomar Mountain, CA USA


  1. Bonnie, thanks so much for all your time sharing these amazing stories. The longer I have my little place on Palomar the more I realize what a amazing history not only the Mountain has but the people have as well. RIP Bill

  2. So sorry for your loss. My father, Huey Spratley still talks highly of Bill Leibold. My Dad built the A-Frame in 1974 at the end of Crestline, the one hidden by the trees. I was only 8yrs old, but remember listening in on the incredible stories Bill told over several years during their visits. I believe Bill gave my Dad a book signed by Mr Leibold, It had gotten lost, and my father searched frantically until he found it tucked in the bookshelf (of all places). This will be sad news to my Mom & Dad, Nancy & Huey Spratley who looked up to Bill as the true war hero he was. My respects, Bruce & Dawne Spratley.

  3. Beautiful tribute Bonnie. He probably knew my Uncle William “Bill” Stubbs, Ret USN CDR (RIP). He was a member and eventual Commander of UDT3! We had the honor and blessing to attend his burial at sea off the shore at Ft Pierce, FL; home of the US Navy UDT/SEAL Museum. May God Bless the souls of these mighty warriors! Thank you Bonnie. You never cease to amaze!!

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