Llewellyn Morris “Al” Chilson was born on April Fools’ Day, 1 April 1920 in Dayton, Ohio to a WWI veteran. The family later moved to the rough streets of South Akron where Chilson claimed to have mastered his combat skills.
How rough was it? At ten, his mother was killed in front of their house. At 16, he dropped out of school to become a truck driver.
On March 17, 1942, he got his draft letter. He was in Camp Livingston, Louisiana when he was nearly put out of commission – a heavy wheel fell on his leg, knocked him over, and gave him severe concussion. However, he was not discharged – something many Germans would later regret.
Chilson was at the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 with the 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division – the “Thunderbirds.” On February 15, 1944, Chilson was near Carroceto, Italy when a shell fragment almost took his face off. It did not stop him firing until he ran out of ammo – which was how he became a POW.
Five days later, the Allies counter-attacked the German position, allowing Chilson to escape – with four German captives he took back to the Allied side. With his information, the Allies were able to press their attack and capture 40 more POWs.
For his heroics at Carrocetto, he was awarded a Purple Heart. For what he did on February 20, they gave him a Silver Star; then changed their minds. On July 9, he was court-martialed for two counts of AWOL and had his Silver Star revoked.
The war was still raging, so he became a technical sergeant with Company G, 2nd Battalion in Operation Anvil (also called Dragoon) – part of the Normandy Landings. Perhaps to celebrate his survival, he went AWOL again on September 13.
On October 28, he was pinned down by Germans on a hill in Lorraine, France. Twenty-five of his friends had been captured after previous attempts to dislodge the enemy. Chilson snuck around their flank, took care of the Germans, and freed his men.
The Awards Board was notified but refused to award Chilson. Many people believe there were several incidents he was not given recognition for.
On November 24, the 2nd Battalion went to Denshein near the Vosges Mountains where they encountered a fortified roadblock. When night fell, Chilson crawled to the outpost and threw two grenades at the sentries.
Seconds later, he gave them a taste of his submachine gun – killing three. That convinced the other nine to surrender, and the Army to reinstate his Silver Star.
Just before dawn on November 29, Chilson’s group was attacked outside the city of Mühlhausen, forcing them to retreat to Engwiller in France. The following day found them back in Germany some two miles southwest of Gumbrechtshoffen.
Reinforcements found him firing his Thompson 45-cal submachine gun at about 100 Germans crouched several yards away. He was recommended for a Congressional Medal of Honor.
The Thunderbirds crossed the Maginot Line on December 14, putting them in trouble. They had gone too far ahead of the main Allied drive, and Chilson was very ill. He was promoted to platoon sergeant, but unfortunately, he had acute infectious hepatitis and needed evacuation.
In February 1945, Chilson heard about his brother’s death in the Philippines. He went AWOL again but made up for it on March 26.
The Thunderbirds had crossed the Rhine near the town of Gernsheim at 2:30 AM when two platoon commanders were hit. Chilson took over and got his men across when they came under more flak.
He single-handedly took out an ammunition car and two heavy machine guns, which his battalion then used to take out three enemy flak cars. The Thunderbirds killed 11 Germans and took another 225 captive – earning Chilson a Distinguished Service Cross (DSC).
Read more on page two!