A Veteran’s Story: Lavon Chandler

FROM BOMBARDIER TO INFANTRYMAN

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 the 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.

A 1945 drawing of Staff Sgt. Lavon Chandler. The artist was F.F. Bauer, a Russian soldier.
A 1945 drawing of Staff Sgt. Lavon
Chandler. The artist was F.F. Bauer, a Russian soldier.

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 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 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 one 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 leave 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 that they could push their crude carts.  The Russian soldiers eventually did even more harm to themselves.  Stumbling on an storage area for V-2 rocket fuel, they consumed much of the liquid for it’s alcohol content. More than a hundred 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, 1945 World War II in Europe 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 new mysterious weapons on two Japanese cities.  Soon afterwards Japan surrendered.  Lavon was going home.

Lavon Chandler, October 2015
Lavon Chandler, October 2015

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 those three and a half decades, Lavon and Martha would live in Memphis, Atlanta and Greensboro, North Carolina, 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 door to their daughter Debra.

Martha Brown Chandler passed away in 2013, just a few days after she and Lavon celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary.  Nowadays, at 92 years of age Lavon displays a vibrant energy and enthusiastic view of life.  Once a month, he makes the 7 hour drive to the Ruston area, where he is a Church Deacon.

He is modest about his combat service in WW II,   asserting:  “I’m not a hero.” More than a few, would disagree.

 *****

 Author’s Notes:

World War II demanded much from the Chandler family.  Besides Lavon’s service with Patton’s 3rd Army, two of his brothers also saw action in uniform.  His brother Waylon Chandler was with Patton’s Army during the invasion of North Africa and then Sicily.  He also took part in the Allied Landing at Normandy. He was wounded twice.

Brother E. H. Chandler Jr. saw combat against the Japanese as a member of the Navy Seabees.  A fourth sibling (Milton) was spared from being sent into harm’s way because of the US Military’s policy of seeking to prevent any family’s loss of all sons in wartime. (The unofficial policy was developed after the loss of the now famous “5 Sullivan Brothers” during WW II and is the premise for the movie Saving Private Ryan. Three years after the end of the war, the U.S. Congress passed the “Sole Survivor Policy.”)

Additionally, Lavon Chandler’s brother-in-law Laron Smith was an Army Infantryman who was awarded two Bronze Stars for courageous actions in combat.

Travis Ayres is a local author of two nonfiction books: "Shiloh to Stones River" and "The Bomber Boys - Heroes Who Flew The B-17s In WWII". After serving in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, Travis spent 30 years in radio broadcasting as an on-air personality and programmer, with 15 years in New York City at WABC & WCBS. He is currently the host of the website http://CivilWarFieldTrip.com.

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