A picture of an senior citizen is going viral and people can’t talk enough about what’s in his hands. Joe Chadwell is part of The Greatest Generation – those that fought the horrors of World War II, came home, and quietly went about their lives.
Most of those men fought in either Europe or the Pacific. But not Chadwell. He fought in both theaters.
As a 20-year-old corporal, Chadwell jumped into Normandy with the 101st Airborne Division on D-Day. Part of a small field radio unit, he was tasked with directing naval gunfire at enemy positions dug in throughout the French coastal landscape.
“I didn’t know there were that many ships in the whole world,” Chadwell said. “There were so many, it looked like you could step from one to the other and walk all the way across the channel without getting your feet wet.
“I didn’t really understand the scope of what we were doing until I saw the armada.”
“It was just like some of these Fourth of July fireworks displays you see in the cities,” he said. “Except we were in the middle of it. You never saw so much fire, machine gun shells and everything bursting in the air and throwing shrapnel against that tin fuselage.
“We thought we were going to be killed right then. Many were.”
To avoid the enemy flak, pilots swooped through drop zones lower, faster, and sooner than planned, causing injuries among many of the paratroopers before they could even get into the fight. Despite four years of fierce fighting around the world, that’s how Chadwell received his only Purple Heart.
“We jumped so low and so fast that when I hit the ground, I was knocked out cold for several minutes,” Chadwell said. “To this day, I still deal with the injuries I received from that landing. Most of the Airborne guys who survived the jump were black and blue for weeks after.”
As June came to an end, Allied forces moved the front lines far enough inland that naval fire was no longer effective, meaning Chadwell’s unit was pulled out of the fight. First they flew to London and then returned home for a brief visit during which Chadwell was married.
“We knew that the war in the Pacific was next,” Chadwell said.
Chadwell combat jumped into New Guinea to direct naval fire against the enemy once again while joining the island hopping campaign that epitomized the Pacific theater.
The man who started the war jumping into Normandy on D-Day would end his service as part of the occupying force in Japan following the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
— 101st Airborne Div. (@101stAASLTDIV) May 29, 2013