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 a 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).
Just before dawn, they were attacked outside Gernsheim. Unable to pinpoint the enemy, Chilson set fire to a horse-drawn ammunition wagon. He sent it toward where he thought the shots were coming from. He was right.
As the men ran, he gunned them down. Later that day, he attacked more German positions with grenades, killing five and forcing another 41 to surrender.
The Thunderbirds were again attacked outside Horsenthal on March 31. Chilson and two others ran through enemy fire and hopped into a tank. With one firing and another driving, he stuck his upper half out so he could direct the shots – making himself a perfect target. That earned him a Bronze Star.
April 25, Meilenholen, more flak. Chilson ran ahead of his men, hopped onto a jeep, drove down the main road with one hand while firing away with his machine gun. Result – about 40 dead Germans, two ruined flak guns, and two damaged 88 mm howitzers. That earned him his second DSC.
Later that day, the Thunderbirds found another American battalion trying to storm the village of Zell. Impatient, Chilson found a motorcycle, drove it toward a machine gun nest, and had the bike shot out from under him. Not before he got close enough to take out three gunners with a grenade – earning him his third DSC.
April 27 – Neuberg. Flak was coming from the second story window of an apartment building, so Chilson ran toward it through a hail of bullets. His grenade took out two gunners, convinced another eight to surrender, and got him another DSC.
More flak came from another apartment into the courtyard outside. Chilson chucked a white phosphorous grenade out the window, rushed back down, dashed across the smoke-filled courtyard, and fired at the upstairs window.
Although the Germans could not see him, this time they shot Chilson in the arm. He did not even slow down. He made it into the building, killed another two, and fired at the third. Nothing! He had run out of ammo. He brained the guy, took another seven captives, rejoined his men, and passed out – hello, second Purple Heart!
On December 6, 1946, President Harry S. Truman pinned seven medals on Chilson, turned to the press and said, ““This is the most remarkable list of citations I have ever seen… These ought to be worth a Medal of Honor.”
The Awards Board disagreed.