Posted: 5/30/2005 11:52:31 PM
[Last Edit: 5/30/2005 11:52:54 PM by Sukebe]
Just one last veterans thread before this Memorial Day passes. We all know about Audie Murphy. Did you ever wonder who took second place? This was in the local paper today. Take the time to read. It's a good story.
Akron WWII hero collected more medals in one day than any other U.S. soldier
By Mark J. Price
Beacon Journal staff writer
President Harry S. Truman couldn't believe his eyes. He scanned the war hero's distinguished record and spoke with glowing admiration.
``This is the most remarkable list of citations I have ever seen,'' he said.
As camera flashbulbs burst, Truman pinned seven medals on U.S. Army Tech. Sgt. Llewellyn M. Chilson's chest during a White House ceremony in 1946.
Never before in American history had one soldier collected so many medals in one day.
``For any one of these, this young man is entitled to all the country has to offer,'' Truman told the gathered crowd. ``These ought to be worth a Medal of Honor -- that's what I think about it.''
Chilson, ``the fightingest man'' in the 45th Infantry Division, was the second most decorated soldier of World War II. He earned 29 medals, including three Distinguished Service Crosses, two Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, a Combat Infantryman's Badge and two French presentations of the Croix de Guerre.
Despite Truman's backing, the Akron soldier did not receive the Medal of Honor. Congress presents the medal, the nation's highest military honor, for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty.
Somehow Chilson's qualifications were overlooked.
He may not have received one, but a case can be made that he deserved one.
Born in 1920, Chilson was a scrappy kid on the mean streets of Akron. As a student at Lincoln Elementary and South High School, his first battlefield victories were schoolboy rumbles in Goosetown and Hell's Half Acre.
``I've always been a fighter,'' he once told a reporter. ``The neighborhoods where I grew up in South Akron were pretty rough. Real tenderloins.''
Chilson quit high school after three years and snagged a job as a driver for Renner Trucking Co. On March 28, 1942 -- a few days shy of his 22nd birthday -- he was drafted into the U.S. Army for World War II.
He trained for a year before joining the 179th Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, which shipped out of Camp Patrick Henry, Va., in June 1943.
The Axis powers would soon know the fury of an Akron warrior. Chilson battled his way across North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, France and Germany.
Brave and relentless, Chilson was like a Hollywood character come to life. He seemed to have complete disregard for his own safety as he attacked enemy forces. In all, he killed at least 58 German soldiers and helped capture 243 others.
He insisted he wasn't trying to be a hero.
``I guess it was just a combination of things,'' he later recalled. ``Fear, adrenaline, my training to react to combat situations. All those things are part of it.''
In February 1944 near Anzio, Italy, he suffered a shrapnel wound, but refused to give up fighting. Pinned down by enemy fire, he held his position on the smoky battlefield until he ran out of ammunition. German soldiers seized the moment and captured Chilson and three Army buddies near Aprilia, Italy.
They weren't held for long. Chilson talked his way out of it.
The Germans were taking a serious pounding from U.S. shells.
``A furious artillery barrage by our troops was the real reason we got away,'' Chilson explained in 1946. ``We told the Germans we might be able to return to our lines and talk the brass hats into letting up on the artillery.
``The Germans talked it over among themselves and finally decided to let us go. They gave us our rifles. So we just grabbed four prisoners and started back to our lines. We were back 24 hours after our capture.''
Later that year, in the Vosges Mountains of France, Chilson's platoon ran into a German roadblock. The Akron soldier sneaked off into the woods and outflanked the German position at night. He crept within 20 feet of the enemy before launching an assault with grenades and a machine gun, killing three Germans and taking nine prisoners.
The road was open.
Chilson showed extraordinary heroism again in April 1945 when the enemy opened fire on his company in the German village of Meilenholen. The sergeant hopped aboard a jeep armed with a machine gun and raced wildly through the streets, dodging bullets while firing on German positions. He killed about 40 riflemen and knocked out two flak guns, according to Army records.
Several days later, in street fighting near Nuremberg, Chilson's outfit came under fire from a German machine-gun nest atop a building. Once again, Chilson attacked with guns and grenades.
``Firing his carbine with his left hand after being wounded in the right arm by an enemy bullet, he killed two of the enemy and captured a third,'' the Army reported.
Chilson clubbed the third German soldier with his carbine butt until the man fell unconscious. Then Chilson passed out, too, from loss of blood.
The war ended for Chilson two weeks before Germany's official surrender May 8, 1945. The wounded solder was transported to the 34th General Hospital in Stockbridge, England.
He wasn't too wounded to notice the pretty nurse named Mary. She was from Santa Barbara, Calif. They married that year.
Llewellyn and Mary Chilson would soon welcome two daughters: Roberta and Marilyn.
Roberta was only 6 months old in December 1946 when she joined her parents and grandparents at the White House ceremony for Chilson's medals.
Gen. Bruce C. Clarke would describe the Akron man as ``one of the two great soldiers this nation has produced.''
The other great soldier was Audie Murphy, the most decorated GI of World War II. The Texas soldier earned 27 U.S. decorations along with five awards from France and Belgium.
Most notably, Murphy was presented with the Medal of Honor -- the only combat decoration that Chilson didn't receive. Chilson met Murphy in Washington and the two remained friendly over the years.
Murphy went on to be a Hollywood star, making 44 movies, including the autobiographical war movie To Hell and Back.
Meanwhile, the war's No. 2 hero remained in relative obscurity. Chilson was discharged from the service in 1945 but re-enlisted in 1947 and rose to the rank of master sergeant. He was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and later Fort Sill, Okla.
On May 24, 1961, he was seriously injured in a transport plane crash at McChord Air Force Base in Washington. He was one of only four people to survive. The crash killed 24 service members.
Two years later, Chilson retired from the Army at age 44. He operated a gas station in Puyallup, Wash.
In a strange twist of fate, Audie Murphy was killed May 28, 1971, in a plane wreck near Roanoke, Va. It was almost exactly a decade after Chilson's crash.
More than 25 years passed before Chilson returned to Akron. He and his wife, Mary, attended a family reunion in April 1978.
The retired soldier weighed a bit more, his hair had thinned and he sported a bushy beard.
``Other than that, and a few aches and pains, I guess I haven't changed much,'' he joked.
He regaled a reporter with war stories. The memories were still vivid after 30-plus years.
``How could I forget?'' he said.
That was his last trip to the old hometown.
Llewellyn M. Chilson died in October 1981 during a vacation to Tampa, Fla. He was 61 years old.
``The fightingest man'' of the 45th Infantry Division was buried with full military honors at Mountain View Memorial Park in Tacoma, Wash.
He risked his life in combat beyond the call of duty.
Should Congress ever decide to reconsider that Medal of Honor, Chilson's brave devotion to duty is a matter of public record.
Mark J. Price is a Beacon Journal copy editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3769 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.