A construction worker removed his hardhat and held it over his heart Thursday morning as David E. Leué’s funeral procession wound its way through Arlington National Cemetery.
As the sun broke through the clouds for the first time all morning, tourists put down their cameras to watch as the Leué family followed his shiny silver casket, draped in an American flag and carried by horse-drawn cart, to its final resting place.
Capt. Leué, of Clovis, died Jan. 25 and was interred with full military honors, including a three-volley rifle salute and the playing of taps. He was 87.
His burial at Arlington took several months, as is often the case at the revered patch of greenery across the Potomac River from the capital, where the tombstones honor national luminaries and everyday Americans alike.
Family, friends and fellow veterans came from across the country to pay their respects to the 32-year Navy veteran, who they described as a man of great faith and integrity. His wife, Stella Leué, said the first thing she remembers when she thinks of her husband was his “infectious smile.”
Capt. Leué flew 329 combat missions over both Korea and Vietnam during more than three decades of military service. He earned numerous honors, including four Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Navy Commendation medals and a Bronze Star. He also penned two memoirs detailing his service.
He didn’t walk up to you and say, ‘I can’t do something.’ ‘Can’t’ wasn’t in his vernacular.
Rear Adm. William W. Pickavance, recalling Capt. David E. Leué of Clovis at Thursday’s Arlington National Cemetery burial service
His love of the Navy and his country was such that even though Capt. Leué retired in 1977, he tried to re-enlist in the early 2000s when he was in his 70s, his wife said.
Rear Adm. William W. Pickavance, who had served with Capt. Leué and knew him well, said he was not surprised. Pickavance called him a hands-on, take-charge kind of guy. “He didn’t walk up to you and say, ‘I can’t do something.’ ‘Can’t’ wasn’t in his vernacular.”
Once when Leué captained the USS Canisteo, a fleet oiler, his wife and Pickavance recounted that Leué couldn’t get the Navy to pay for new boiler. So he asked his crew what needed to be done, then looked the other way when they circumvented normal procedures and found a way to repair it. He wanted to ensure the ship was safe and in working order for his crew, Stella Leué said.
“He also inspired loyalty, from the top down and the bottom up,” said Paul Reyes, who flew with him during his days as a Navy attack pilot. “And he was fearless in combat.”
Capt. Leué was also a family man — in a big way.
He met Stella at a costume dance at a church on Fat Tuesday in 1989. She was divorced and his first wife had died. Capt. Leué was dressed in a flight suit; Stella wore a square dancing costume.
She asked him to dance and they spent the rest of the evening together.
Stella, who had four children of her own, said, “When he told me he had seven children, I just about fell out of my chair.”
He began courting her immediately: “He wasn’t wasting any time,” she said.
Both families were involved in the wedding. His wife said he made sure they were one family, and he loved everyone the same.
The can-do attitude that highlighted his military service was present at home, as well, his stepdaughter Lucy Poole said. Once when he was on the roof repairing the air conditioner, “Mom had to get mad at him and tell his doctor so that he would come down off the roof,” she said.
And he would “insist on mowing the lawn,” even when age began affecting his stamina.
Poole recalled her stepfather as intelligent, calm and confident, with a dry sense of humor. He also had “a ribbon of spice” running through his life.
“Sometimes in your life you meet someone you just know is special,” she said. “He was like that.”
Corinne Kennedy: 202-383-6022; @corinneskennedy