CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Raymond Chambers never received a Purple Heart despite being wounded while serving during World War II, but now, at 100 years old, he may have a chance to receive the military decoration with the help of Collegedale resident Robert Gould.
One of Gould’s neighbors, an American Legion member, knew Chambers and helped introduce the two men. Gould took an interest in the life and history Chambers has experienced.
“It was fascinating to listen to him, to hear the history that he was bringing forth,” Gould said by phone.
In 1942, Chambers enlisted in the Army and served with the 3rd Infantry Division, mostly in France and Italy. The most difficult part of serving was watching his friends die in front of him, he said.
“Hard thing about combat is holding your buddy in your arms, or just watching the medics work on him, and him passing away with a bullet in him,” Chambers said. “It stays on you forever.”
Chambers remembered the names of several soldiers he watched die, but the one he spoke of most was a soldier from Texas named Cruz, who was a husband and father. During one battle, a lieutenant ordered Cruz to go out against the German forces, Chambers said, but he tried to tell Cruz to ignore the order due to the danger.
“I told him not to go,” Chambers said. “I said, ‘Tell that lieutenant to go to hell.’”
Cruz went out anyway, Chambers said, and the Germans killed him. Chambers said he did not want anything to do with the lieutenant after that.
Chambers was not immune to the dangers of war. While fighting in France, he sustained wounds from artillery shrapnel that struck him in the head and rear end, he said. He spent two weeks in a hospital before returning to duty with the shrapnel still in his body.
Chambers said the shrapnel has not caused many issues for him other than giving him some discomfort when sitting. For Chambers, the longest lasting wounds have been psychological.
“I was a nervous wreck when I came back,” he said.
When he returned to America in 1945, Chambers stayed for three months in a hospital in Florida. He said there were a couple of nights where he tried to dig foxholes with his hands outside the hospital.
After his stay at the hospital, Chambers had the opportunity to fill out paperwork to receive his medals, including the Purple Heart, before a bus was set to take him home. Barbara Painter, Chambers’ living companion for the past decade, said Chambers felt rushed to get on the bus, and he wanted to go home more than he wanted his medals. So, he got on the bus, she said.
At their initial meeting, Gould presented Chambers with a print of a painting by his father titled “Peace 1783 — A Nation is Born.” Gould’s father, John F. Gould, was an artist and illustrator who worked for General Electric Co. and the Saturday Evening Post.
In honor of the nation’s bicentennial, John Gould created a series of three paintings depicting George Washington in historical scenes in 1783, Robert Gould said by phone.
In “Peace 1783 – A Nation is Born,” Washington is depicted in Newburgh, New York, where the first Badge of Military Merit, the precursor to the Purple Heart, was presented. While the Badge of Military Merit was forgotten over time, the award was reestablished as the Purple Heart in 1932 by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, at the time the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
After meeting with Chambers and presenting him with the print, Gould said he wanted to help Chambers obtain the Purple Heart.
Peter Bedrossian, program director at the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, said by phone that getting Chambers the Purple Heart would require contacting the U.S. Army Human Resources Command in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and providing officials there with information such as Chambers’ service number and period of service. The more information provided will help the command better determine Chambers’ eligibility for the Purple Heart, Bedrossian said.
Gould has contacted the Human Resources Command and is planning to gather Chambers’ information in order to send them.