When Harold ‘Van’ Melville Van Leeuwen III was born, he smelled of jet fuel and burnt coffee. The nurses all remarked that this young baby boy was destined to fly C-130s. When baby Van then proceeded to flash a grin at the cutest of the nurses, they added that he would most certainly end up a Coastie as well. Van’s parents, Mr. Harold M. Van Leeuwen Jr., and Mrs. Diana Lynn Van Leeuwen, no strangers to the military lifestyle, had little choice but to accept that their young son was destined for a career in the Coast Guard.
Van’s first assignment was to the U.S. Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard in Alexandria, Virginia, where he quickly married the love of his life, Sarah Elizabeth Van Leeuwen and exceled on the Silent Drill Team. He also embraced the Coast Guard’s motto of ‘Semper Paratus,’ – throughout his seventeen-year career, Van was always ready. Whether fixing a propeller, flying through a hurricane, telling pilot jokes, or simply drinking a cold beer, Van was always ready.
In addition to being a rabid competitor in a range of sports to include Scuba diving, rock climbing, golf, and hockey, Van was a lifelong Patriots football fan, and a truly talented aircraft mechanic, both feared and admired for his uncanny ability to ruthlessly tear apart and rebuild an engine in record time. There are four documented cases of Van simply scowling at a broken engine and, out of deference to Van, the engine miraculously fixed itself.
While the Coast Guard kept Van and Sarah on the road quite a bit, Van never lost sight of his amazing family. As the oldest of three, Van was a devoted mentor to his brother Scott L. Van Leeuwen and sister Candace L. Van Leeuwen. Van was also a loving uncle to Christine and Samantha Van Leeuwen, daughters to his brother Scott and wife Alexis, of Nashville, TN. In true Coast Guard fashion, Van quickly imparted his love of the open water on Christine, who was most often found duck-diving by Van’s side in the rolling waves off the Outer Banks. Despite the distance, Van and Sarah remained closed to his grandmother, Tharon L. Van Leeuwen. Van was also a lifelong accomplice and confidant to his best friends and cousin Jack Elder.
The cliché would have us believe Van ‘lost his battle with cancer.’ The truth is that Van didn’t lose any battle. Van kicked cancer in the nuts and kept on living, smiling, and laughing right up until it was his time. Van crossed the bar on March 2, 2017, leaving behind a legacy of hard work, an unwillingness to accept anything but success, and an infectious smile that he wore no matter what challenge lay ahead.
The Coast Guard will be holding a memorial celebration of his life on March 24, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, NC in the C-130 Hangar with a reception to follow at 1:00 p.m. at the Chief Petty Officer’s Association located at 514 Cardwell Street, Elizabeth City, NC 27909.
In keeping with Van’s lifelong devotion to helping others, memorial donations may be made to the Duke Cancer Institute (dukecancerinstitute.org) in lieu of flowers.
Twiford Funeral Home, Memorial Chapel, 405 East Church Street, Elizabeth City, NC is serving the Van Leeuwen family. You may express condolences to the family by visiting www.twifordFH.com.
Twiford Funeral Home (Elizabeth City)
405 East Church Street
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