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WWII Vet Leaves Legacy Of Family, Heroism
by U.S. Army Rick Emert, Fort Carson Public Affairs Office
June 10, 2023

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Chandler Caldwell earned awards for valor and meritorious service in a military career that started with the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II and ended with the U.S. Army upon his retirement in 1969, just a short time after he did combat tours in Vietnam.

A recent 2023 photo of Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Chandler Caldwell sits next to a historic photo of him during his service in the U.S. Army. (Image courtesy of Chandler Caldwell's family)
A recent 2023 photo of Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Chandler Caldwell sits next to a historic photo of him during his service in the U.S. Army. (Image courtesy of Chandler Caldwell's family)

Many would say Chandler Caldwell, who passed away in April at the age of 98 and was laid to rest in Trinidad during a private ceremony with full military honors on Memorial Day, May 29, 2023, was a true American hero.

“We believe that he is (a true American hero),” said Jeannine Caldwell, Chandler Caldwell’s daughter and a former special education teacher. “It takes quite a man and quite a woman, my mother, to live the military life.”

From an early age, Chandler Caldwell had a challenging life. His brother died when he was young. His mother died just a few months later. He was raised by his grandmother until he joined the Marines at the age of 17 to serve in World War II, one of the young people serving in that war who were dubbed “The Greatest Generation.”

Throughout his 24-year military career, which included 21 years in the U.S. Army, he earned several awards for valor including an Army Commendation Medal with “V” device, a Meritorious Service Medal, a Bronze Star with “V” device, a Purple Heart and the Legion of Merit for his service in Germany and Vietnam. Despite his combat tours and valor medals, he never brought attention to his military career.

“I’m very proud of him,” said Jeff Caldwell, Chandler Caldwell’s son who now runs the Caldwell family ranch in Trinidad. “I bought him a World War II Veteran hat a long time ago. It took me over a year to get him to wear it. He was proud but humble in not wanting to get attention. I’m just really proud of him. He was quiet about his service. The last couple years we got him to open up about it a little bit more. I’m sure it’s hard for all GIs to talk about being under fire and losing friends.”

To honor him for his service, he was named an honorary command sergeant major at a veterans’ event in the 1980s.

“He said that he had the job, and he went out and did it,” said Jeannine Caldwell. “(A former officer he worked with) wanted to make him the honorary sergeant major for the 16th Infantry. Once a year they met, and my dad went in 1984, but he never went again after that. We have letters and letters and letters from them asking him every year to come to the event, and he would say, ‘No, I’m too busy on the ranch, or no, I have to do this.’ He never really talked about it until he got a lot older. He would say things like 700 of us (World War II veterans) are dying a day, but he never brought out his medals and showed us. I had to take out all his military stuff and read it and say, ‘tell me about this.’ We would talk about a lot of things, but he never bragged. He had a job; he did his job. He never talked about serving his country. He never touted that.”

Although he didn’t tout his own heroism and service, he was quick to thank other veterans for their service.

“My father, at 97, would have his World War II hat on and go in the store,” Jeannine Caldwell said. “If he saw someone else with a veteran cap on, he would say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ Many young men would come up to my dad and start crying. It made them cry to see that he was in World War II. There were a lot of interactions like that, and my father was very reserved. Very proud of them, but also very reserved.”

Although he carried on the military mindset throughout his life, he was also a family man.

“My relationship with my dad was very, very good,” said Jeannine Caldwell. “We worked very hard. I drove my first tractor when I was in fifth grade. I had a very hard-working relationship with my father growing up, and it taught me a lot. I’ve been with him. I was with him for almost the last year.”

His children have fond memories of his time in uniform.

“Every Saturday in Alaska, we used to go and watch his unit march,” Jeff Caldwell said. “They used to march on the field. Back then, they used to march all the time – everything perfect. They always had people flying in to watch them march.”

Jeannine Caldwell also has a favorite memory, and talked to her father again about the memory in the year she spent caring for him before he passed.

“It would snow so bad sometimes, that my dad would tie a rope from the house to the barn and say don’t let go of the rope if there was a blizzard outside,” she said. “When the cows were carrying calves, they couldn’t give birth by themselves, so we would help them. One day, my dad wasn’t home, and he said he checked all the heifers. I went out, I was only about 17, I pulled that calf all by myself. My dad came home, and I was fixing milk for another calf. He always used to tell me, ‘I sure could have used you today. I had to pull that calf’ or, ‘I had to get this kid to help me.’ So, that day he came home, I said, ‘I sure could have used you today to help pull that calf.’”

Chandler Caldwell was a hard worker on the ranch, and he passed on that commitment to responsibility and dedication to his children.

“He never missed any days,” said Jeannine Caldwell. “We never missed any days if we felt sick – we got up and went to school. I know now, from my dad talking to me, there was no choice. He got up and he went, or he died. We always had instilled in us very much a sense of you don’t sit down, you don’t wait. You move, even if you’re not feeling like it. You better go and start working.”

Chandler Caldwell continued his defense efforts long after retiring – and made sure his family was protected.

“One year when we were little, we were snowed in the house,” Jeannine Caldwell said. “There was about 4 feet of snow. We were 25 miles out on a dirt road. This was going on for about a month. There was no way to get in and out of here. All the cattle were up at the house. My mom couldn’t come home (from Denver, where she worked during the week). There was no school. You didn’t go out. There were no radios. We couldn’t get any information from the outside world. About three weeks in, here comes a helicopter. My sister and I are outside playing on top of 4 feet of snow. We run inside and I tell my dad, ‘There’s a helicopter coming.’ This was in like 1972. He said, ‘Run and get under the bed.’ He grabbed his rifle and ran outside ready to defend the house, and it was an Army helicopter. They were coming to see if we needed food. That’s my dad’s military style. He was not afraid.”

Late into his 90s, he would still take time to talk to young people interested in enlisting or in Army history.

"When there was a high school boy who wanted to join the military, he would come over to our house and talk to my dad,” Jeannine Caldwell said. “He did things like that up until two years ago. I’m a special ed teacher – I had a girl whose brother was a history buff. He really wanted to meet dad. My dad talked to him for two-and-a-half hours. The boy would say, ‘The text says this.’ My dad would say, ‘Well, I was there. That was my experience.’ My dad was always willing to talk to them. He was military through and through and very patriotic, right up until his death. It’s not like he retired and then just stopped. He was always giving back. My dad was an old-timer in the community here. He was so tough that I think he was the type of person who everyone thought was never going to die.”

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