The brief life of a soldier killed in action during World War II
He is one of many who has served in our military and paid the ultimate price in defending our nation.
Like many of our brave men and women who died while wearing the uniform of our armed forces, Chet Dean’s story remains frozen in time. Growing up, I recall occasional cemetery visits, especially on Memorial Day.
Also while growing up, a family member might recall a story involving Chet as a boy, adolescent, or young adult. But as the years pile on, the memories faded.
But I will recall his life and his sacrifice again on this Memorial Day.
Here’s what I know about my great uncle Chester Dean.
Born in 1922, he was the brother of my grandmother, Vera. In addition to Vera, he had four other sisters: Mary, Vaughn, Myrtle, and Viola (known in the family as Peachy).
Chester had two brothers: Charlie, who was serving in the Army Air Corps in Italy at the time of Chet’s death, and Harry who was living in upstate New York.
The Dean children were a big part of my growing up experience.
Harry passed away before I reached school age, but the other Dean adult children were truly part of our family. My family was always spending time with the Deans playing cards, dropping in for coffee, or helping out on a house project.
You name it and we were all part of it.
Unfortunately, no one in my generation would know Chet. He went into the armed forces in 1942, did his basic training at Camp Rucker, Alabama and was then transferred to Fort Knox, Kentucky before being sent on for desert training in Arizona.
He was sent to Wales in April 1944.
While soldiers were dying every hour during World War II, it’s reasonable to assume Chet was doing his duty and looking forward to life with his new wife once the war was over.
Little did he know of the events that were about to happen.
In just two more months, the landing at Normandy would take place off the coast of France. Chet, now Corporal Dean, remained in Wales for training that would likely lead to action on the field of battle.
Just two days after D-Day, he was training in Wales on June 8, 1944 when an explosion occurred. Chet suffered concussion and shrapnel injuries.
These injures would prove fatal.
His wife Shirley got the news in the form of a telegram. According to an account of Chet’s death in the Lowville (NY) Journal and Republican newspaper, the telegram was very brief.
It stated that he died on June 8, 1944. The telegram concludes with the words: Letter follows.
Chet’s widow Shirley wanted more information about her husband’s death. She wrote to the war department on July 10 asking for confirmation and more details.
On July 27, 1944, just seven weeks after the training accident that would claim Chet Dean’s life, Shirley got a letter with the additional details:
"Dear Mrs. Dean
I have your letter of July 10 and want to thank you for writing me concerning your husband, Cpl Chester T. Dean. It is true, Mrs. Dean, that your husband is dead. The war department did not make a mistake.
I buried him with the ceremony appropriate to military funerals and then in addition to that, we had a memorial service in the company for him. The entire company was present, together with others from the battalion. The battalion commander was present. There were some beautiful tributes paid to your husband.
I only wish I had them recorded to you could hear what they said. But, knowing him to be the man that he was, you do not need them, do you? We held you and other loved ones before the Throne of God in prayer. And Chester's good life and devotion to God has been an inspiration to many others since that service to a closer walk with God. He was always in my services as often as duty would permit.
It was an unfortunate accident that caused his death. More than that I cannot say. But it was very encouraging to hear the company commander say that he was one of his very best men and that he wished he had a whole company of men like him. We all felt the same way.
His last hours were not spent in suffering. He died an easy death. We did all we could for him."
Chet Dean was born in northern New York, died in Wales, was married, served in the military, and paid the ultimate price. His brother and sisters kept his memory alive by tending to his gravesite in my hometown of Port Leyden.
My father and my uncle see to it that his grave marker is kept clean and place flowers on that grave as well as many other graves of family members every year, especially on Memorial Day.
I never got a chance to know this man. But I will take comfort from the words the company commander used that were included in the letter Chet’s widow received: “he wished he had a whole company of men like him.”
By knowing Chet’s surviving siblings, my family did have a group of people just like him. Vera, Mary, Vaughn, Myrtle, Peachy, and Charlie were caring people who loved their families, and who enjoyed a good hearty sense of humor.
That’s a pretty good legacy.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.
He is indebted to the website http://russpickett.com/history/nylewis.htm for providing many of the details in this column. Research was also done on the archives of the Lowville Leader and Lowville Journal and Republican newspapers through nyshistoricnewspapers.org