Chester C. VanDeVelde

1918 - 2018


Their Story

Chester C. VanDeVelde was born on April 21, 1918, in Sheffield, Illinois, the son of Charles and Emily (VanDeHandy) VanDeVelde.[1] His father was born in Belgium and immigrated to the U.S. in 1891.[2] His mother, also Belgian, was born in Illinois. He had one sister. In 1930, the family lived in Mineral Township, Bureau County, Illinois. Charles VanDeVelde was a farmer. Chester only had a 7th grade education because his father needed his help on the farm.[3] So he quit school at the age of 13 in 1932 and worked the farm. This was during the Great Depression, when the farming industry was hit hard.

Chester was drafted into the Army on February 17, 1942. When he left to fight the Nazis he lived in a home without electricity, no running water, and an outhouse fitted with “deluxe” toilet paper emanating from either a Sears Roebuck or a Montgomery Ward’s catalog.[4] He served with the 36th Infantry Division, made up of the Texas National Guard, during WWII. They were known as T-Patchers for the design on their shoulder insignia, and as the “Texas”, but the official name was Arrowheads.[5]

Chester spent boot camp at Camp Blanding, Florida. At the time, it had 10,000 buildings, 125 miles of paved roads, and the largest hospital in the state: all created in under three months. At the beginning of World War II, the U.S. Army took it over to train the federalized national guard units as well as portions of the regular army.[6] During WW2 Camp Blanding housed 1M US soldiers and 375,000 German POWs. Chester was stationed with the 143rd Regiment of the 36th Army Division of 165 men.  He was one of eight soldiers attached to Headquarters Communications Center responsible for hand carrying messages back and forth from the field to his commanders. 

Chester C. VanDeVelde in uniform

After boot camp, extensive training, and ground maneuvers, Chester and the 36th were ready for war. General Fred Walker, commanding officer of the 36th, said in his notes after the war that the 36th was as proficient in all phases of battle as it was possible to be without actual battle experience.[7] They had a two-week sea voyage to Oran, Algiers, North Africa. It was their first invasion of the war and occurred in November 1942 during Operation Torch. Operation Torch was the Anglo-American invasion of French Morocco and Algeria during the North African Campaign of World War II. It began on November 8 and concluded on November 16, 1942.[8] Commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the operation’s primary objective was to secure bridgeheads for opening a second front to the rear of German and Italian forces battling the British in Libya and Egypt. Operation Torch marked the largest American campaign to date in the Atlantic theater, and the first major operation carried out jointly and combined by the United States and the United Kingdom during World War II.

The 36th was the first American combat division to land on the continent of Europe. The 36th Division spearheaded the Allied landing at Salerno, Italy, in September 1943, called Operation Avalanche. It was there that Chester earned the Silver Star. The Germans had the high ground on the heights above the beaches (Mount Chirico). The 36th made it to the high ground but were about to be overrun. German commanders had also begun shifting units towards the beachhead. Chester volunteered to run back a mile, through difficult terrain and a line of enemy tanks, to communicate that information to command. His Silver Star citation reads:

Chester C. VanDeVelde, Technician Fifth Grade, Headquarters Company, 143rd Infantry Regiment, for gallantry in action on 14 September 1943 on Mount Chirico, Italy. With communications knocked out and enemy tanks threatening to break through the defensive position occupied by his unit, Technician Fifth Grade VanDeVelde volunteered to carry a message for help to tank destroyer units over a mile away. His route lay over difficult terrain swept by intense fire and through the line of formidable enemy tanks. He had raced about a mile over the winding, exposed trail when an enemy tank crew spotted him and attempted to intercept him with machine gun fire. Eluding these perils, he accomplished his self-assigned mission and brought the needed help that materially assisted in smashing the enemy attack. His gallant action reflects great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States. Signed by Fred L. Walker, Major General, U.S. Army Commanding and dated 22 April 1944.[9]

Chester C. VanDeVelde with group

“Running back and watching the bullets whiz past wasn’t fun, but it all worked out. I just did what was asked of me,” he later said of his heroics in an interview in 2019 with John Marx of the Dispatch-Argus.

The unit saw action at Mount Rotondo and at The Battle of San Pietro Infine, during which the small town held by the 15th Panzer grenadier Regiment, German Tenth Army soldiers, fell to the 36th, who blasted San Pietro to rubble.[10] They also participated in one of the most controversial and deadliest battles of WWII, the crossing of the Rapido River.  In a span of forty-eight hours, the 36th Division lost over two thousand men at the Rapido River in January of 1944.  It became so controversial that after the war a congressional hearing was held to see if actions should be taken on those who were in command of a unit that lost so many American lives.[11]  In General Fred Walker’s notes after the war, he said the Germans had the high ground and could look down on every area occupied by the 36th, which did not have one single advantage in its favor. He believed the order to cross there violated sound tactical principles, but he was overruled by his superiors.

While in the mountainous regions of Italy, Chester also earned the Soldier’s Medal for heroism. The citation reads:

Chester C. VanDeVelde at monument

Chester C. VanDeVelde, Staff Sergeant, Headquarters Company, 143rd Infantry Regiment, for heroism on 25 May 1944 in Italy. Sergeant VanDeVelde was advancing in a convoy when a truck laden with artillery shells struck a mine and burst into flames. The route was congested with vehicles bringing personnel and equipment to the rapidly advancing forward elements; and the hot, smoking shells and smoldering debris formed an effective roadblock which halted all traffic. Although the fire had been setting off the ammunition and a series of violent explosions had sent shell fragments hurtling in all directions, Sergeant VanDeVelde, aware of the necessity for removing the block which prevented his convoy from continuing, began clearing the road of the hot shells and debris. Constantly imperiled by the unexploded ammunition smoking on the truck, he worked swiftly at his hazardous task until the obstructions were removed, and the traffic could continue forward. Signed by John E. Dahlquist, Major General, U.S. Army, Commanding.[12]

The Soldier’s Medal is awarded to any person of the Armed Forces of the United States or of a friendly foreign nation who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States, distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving conflict with an enemy.”[13]

The 36th pressed on through Italy, participating in the attack on Monte Cassino. On the morning of February 15, 1944, about 250 Allied bombers attacked the monastery.[14] According to one observer, they “soon reduced the entire top of Monte Cassino to a smoking mass of rubble.” The planes attacked in waves, dropping about 600 tons of high explosives. Between the waves of bombers, allied artillery also fired on the target. There had been much debate about attacking the monastery as both sides had agreed to preserve it. But the Germans were believed to have taken up defensive positions there.

The attack seemed to confirm the presence of Germans in the abbey. “Over 150 enemy were seen wildly trying to get away from the Abbey as the first planes dropped their loads,” one observer reported. “Artillery and small arms fire took a heavy toll on these men as they exposed themselves across the open terrain.” Other witnesses thought they saw German troops make repeated attempts to run from the abbey to safer positions, “conclusive proof,” one said, “that the Germans had used the monastery for military purposes.”

On June 5, 1944, the first American soldiers, including the 36th Infantry Division as part of the 5th Army, entered the center of Rome after encountering German resistance on the outskirts of the city.[15]  The American commander of the 5th Army, Lieutenant General Mark Clark, chose to strike from the Anzio beachhead, after the fall of Monte Cassino. After the fall of Rome, the 36th was pulled out of the front line to prepare for the amphibious landing in Southern France in August 1944, two months after D-Day.

The 36th was redeployed to southern France and moved northeast to the region of Alsace. During the German offensive in December (the Battle of the Bulge), the “Texas” held its defensive position and by the end of the month was counter-attacking enemy forces.

From September 1944 to March 1945, a large-scale Allied offensive pressed the German defensive line, known as the Siegfried Line or the Westwall in German. It stretched more than 390 miles and featured more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels, and tank traps. On March 21, Chester performed another heroic achievement in combat, earning the Bronze Star Medal. From the citation:

Chester C. VanDeVelde, Staff Sergeant, Headquarters Company, 143rd Infantry Regiment, for heroic achievement in combat on 21 March 1945 in Germany. Sergeant VanDeVelde and a group of companions were assigned the mission of laying a wire line from regimental headquarters to the 1st Battalion, which was then deep in the Siegfried Line. Organized into two-man teams with each carrying 84 pounds of wire, they advanced under cover of darkness over the rugged mountain slopes. Although they were harassed by artillery and mortar concentrations and small arms fire, they pressed determinedly forward, laying the wire over all kinds of natural obstacles, through a maze of barbed-wire entanglements, pillboxes and gun emplacements, and within earshot of German patrols. Despite all dangers and difficulties, they succeeded in reaching their objective; and, as a result of their courage and determination, the vital communications were established. Signed John E. Dahlquist, Major General, U.S. Army Commanding[16]

By early 1945, the last Siegfried Line bunkers had fallen. The fighting brought total U.S. losses to 68,000.[17] In 1945, the division advanced into the Rhineland and, by war’s end, had reached the Bavarian Alps.[18]

The 36th was the unit that captured Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering, deputy Fuhrer and chief of Germany’s Luftwaffe [Air Force] on May 7, 1945, in Austria.[19] Chester was present and was thirty feet from him, according to stories told to his son, Thomas.

The 36th Division was in combat for 400 days during WWII. The division’s history includes nineteen months in combat in five major campaigns and two amphibious assaults. The 36th had 15 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, 10 Presidential Unit Citations, and numerous other battle awards. Its casualty list, third highest of any American division, numbered 27,343, of whom 3,974 were killed, 19,052 wounded, and 4,317 missing in action.

On May 8, Germany surrendered to the Allies. At that time, the biggest field Army in U.S. history had to transition into an occupation force and redeploy hundreds of thousands of soldiers for the invasion of Japan. The Army had a surplus of troops for these missions, and so was tasked with equitably identifying and discharging millions of men. The Adjusted Service Rating Score had been devised for this purpose. Each soldier was awarded points based on how long they had served overseas, how many decorations they received, how many campaigns they had taken part in, and how many children they had. Chester was discharged from the Army July 28, 1945[20], qualifying for early discharge because he had accumulated enough points.

Upon arriving home to the waiting arms of his mother and father early one morning, he saw the electric light bulb that had not been there when he left. The very next day, in the early morning hours, Chester was on his father’s tractor threshing oats and milking cows.

Chester C. VanDeVelde Gravesite

He married Juliette E. VanKerrebroeck on June 21, 1947, in Moline. They had two children, Thomas and Patricia. In 1953, they resided in Rock Island.[21]

Chester worked at the Rock Island Arsenal as a precision grinder for 26 years and was a near life-long member of Sacred Heart Church. He was a member of the Ex-Servicemen’s Club in Moline and paid for a canopy over the rolle bolle court there the year before he died in honor of his late wife. He was still playing rolle bolle at age 99, doing so twice per week. He had been playing since the age of 10. According to some, he played rolle bolle as well as most men one-fifth his age.[22] Chester was also a member of the Center for Belgian Culture, Catholic Order of Foresters, and the Friends Circle Club in Moline. He enjoyed needle point, carpentry, playing cards, the Cubs, and winning (often) at rolle bolle.

In 2008, Chester, with son Thomas as his guardian, went on the first Honor Flight out of the Quad Cities, along with 95 other WWII veterans. It was his first visit to D.C. (see photo)

Chester died at the age of 100 on September 24, 2018, at Friendship Manor Silver Cross, Rock Island, Illinois.


[1] Chester C. VanDeVelde (1918-2018) – Find a Grave Memorial

[2] 1930 United States Federal Census –

[3] Personal interview with son, Thomas VandeVelde, via phone on June 2, 2022

[4] Funeral eulogy by son-in-law Erik Tjelmeland, a retired Air Force bird colonel

[5] T-patchers – O.K. With the War (

[6] Camp Blanding And Its WWII History – Barbara Whitaker

[7] The 36th Was a Great Fighting Division, by Fred L. Walker – 1968

[8] oran algeria operation torch – Search (

[9] Silver Star Citation April 22, 1944

[10] Battle of San Pietro Presages Huge Casualties in Italian Campaign – World War II Day by Day (

[11] The U.S. Army’s all Mexican-American Infantry Unit – Little-Known Heroes of the Italian Campaign of WWII (

[12] Soldiers Medal Citation dated July 22, 1944, and signed by Major General John E. Dahlquist

[13] Soldier’s Medal – Wikipedia

[14] The Bombing of Monte Cassino

[15] BBC ON THIS DAY | 5 | 1944: Celebrations as Rome is liberated

[16] Bronze Star Citation by Major General John E. Dahlquist, Commanding Officer of the 36th Infantry Division

[17] Siegfried Line

[18] The 36th Infantry Division during World War II | Holocaust Encyclopedia (

[19]Hermann Goering (center) talks with Brigadier General Robert J. Stack, Assistant Commander of the 36th Infantry Division (right) and Major General John Dahlquist, Commander of the 36th Division after his arrest in the Grand Hotel at Kitzbuehl.

[20] Army of the United States Honorable Discharge certificate given at Fort Sheridan, Illinois

[21] U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 –

[22] Dispatch-Argus article by John Marx Apr 21, 2017- VanDeVelde Amazing at 99