In the spring of 1943, twenty - year old Lavon Chandler was enrolled as a student at Louisiana State University. Just months before he had asked his high school sweetheart, the pretty Martha Brown to marry him. She had said "Yes." Lavon was a young man who seemed to have it all going according to plan but across America, 1943 would be a year of disrupted plans.
"We were at war. People expected an able bodied young man to be in uniform. I was an able bodied young man, I knew my duty. I left LSU and hitchhiked from Baton Rouge to my hometown, Ruston, Louisiana and enlisted in the Army."
"I requested assignment to the Air Corp and was accepted to Bombardier Training" He mastered the complexities of the new Norden Bombsight. In fact, he showed such proficiency that instead of being assigned duty overseas as a Bombardier, Lavon was made an instructor. Much of the next year would be spent analyzing bombing results of other young bombardiers, who were training for combat missions over Germany.
As day after boring day went by Lavon began to understand it was unlikely he would ever realize his goal of being a member of a B-17 or B-24 Bomber crew. By late 1944 the U.S. Army Air Corp had successfully trained so many bomber replacement crews that training programs were curtailed. In Europe the Allies were throwing thousands of troops into the Battle of the Bulge. What the Army needed now were fresh Infantrymen. Scuttlebutt was that "the life expectancy of a replacement foot-soldier there was 24 hours."
"At four o'clock one morning," Lavon recalls, "my Captain woke me and said: 'Wake up Chandler, you're going to the Infantry." A quick six weeks of "Infantry Training" and then soon afterwards Staff Sargent Lavon Chandler found himself in General George Patton's 3rd Army. "We were chasing the Germans across the Rhine River and because I was a Staff Sargent when I entered the Infantry, I was put in command of a platoon, although I had no more training than my men."
Moving quickly through the burning ruins of German cities Patton's soldiers were soon capturing large numbers of enemy troops. While searching one of the captured Germans, Lavon found something that would open his eyes to what the term "Pure Evil" really meant. What he discovered on the prisoner was four small photographs.... each capturing a gruesome scene from an unidentified Nazi Concentration Camp. He never learned how the German prisoner had obtained the photos.... but Lavon kept them, vowing to himself to be a witness to anyone who might later question that Hitler's unthinkable vile plan of extermination had actually happened.
Deep into Germany, the Americans came upon a German stalag containing several hundred Russian soldiers. Sgt. Chandler and his men were assigned responsibility for the camp, until the time when the Russians could be sent home, which would not happen until the end of the war. Controlling the Russian allies proved almost as challenging as dealing with the enemy.
As liberated allied soldiers, the Russians were allowed to leaved the camp during the day and return in the evening. Soon they were wandering in to nearby German towns, stealing what they could from devastated civilians, most of whom had little more than they could push in their crude carts. The Russian soldiers eventually did even more harm to themselves. Stumbling on a storage area for V-2 rocket fuel, they consumed much of the liquid for its alcohol content. More than a hundred of the Russians died from drinking the toxic cocktail.
General Patton was informed that his army would not be allowed to advance on Berlin. Russian forces would be given a free hand in capturing the German capital. On May 7th of 1945 World War II came to an end. Patton and his men waited for orders. "We had lived everyday by not expecting we would ever get back home. I felt I would never get to see Martha again." When word came that now Patton's Army would be shipping out for the invasion of the Japanese Islands, Lavon's expectations for the future seemed to be confirmed. Then came the news that American bombers had delivered two mysterious weapons on two Japanese cities. Soon afterwards Japan surrendered. Lavon was going home.
In 1949 Lavon applied for a job at the Sears & Roebuck store in Monroe, Louisiana. It was the beginning of his career with Sears that would last "35 years, 7 months and 14 days." During three and a half decades, Lavon and his wife Martha would live in Memphis, Atlanta and Greensboro NC, as he served as a Sears Credit Specialist. The couple would also raise two sons and a daughter. Upon retirement in 1985 the family moved back to their Louisiana farm that Lavon's grandfather had homesteaded in 1845. In 2010 Lavon and Martha sold the farm and moved to Bentonville, Arkansas to buy a home next to their daughter Debra.
Martha Brown Chandler passed away in 2013, just a few days after she and Lavon celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. Now at 95 years of age Lavon Chandler still displays a vibrant energy and enthusiastic view of life and has returned to live in his hometown of Ruston, Louisiana. As always, he is modest about his combat service in WW II, asserting : "I'm not a hero." More than a few would disagree.
Author's Note: The Veteran's Story above originally appeared on the Home For Dinner website in 2015 and has been updated for travislayres.com
(Copyright 2015-2019 , Travis L. Ayres)
Travis L Ayres
Early 1970. 2am, on board the USS Regulus: We were still at sea but almost home... not close enough that I could see the lights of San Francisco but close enough that my old portable radio could pick up the AM signal of one of the city's Top-Forty radio stations. Soon after we reached "The States" and our home port of Alameda, I would be making the transition from Petty Officer 3rd Class to civilian- without- a- job. As my Navy days had dwindled down I had struggled with the decision of what career path I would take. It seemed logical to me to try Commercial Art (as Graphic Art was called back then) since I had been drawing since the time I learned what a pencil was and I knew I had some talent. There was only one other job that interested me and that was being a radio disc jockey. Unlike a possible career in Art, I had no clue if I had any potential talent to be an on-air broadcaster. Also, I had no clue how one would get into radio. Then as I sat there on the deck of my ship, I heard an unfamiliar song on that Frisco station. It was rock. It was country. It was Mississippi River Delta blues. It was "Proud Mary" by a new band, Creedence Clearwater Revival. . And as simple as that, when that song ended I knew I wanted to make my living playing that kind of music on the radio. For the next 35 years, that's exactly what I did. Thanks, John Fogerty.
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