Monday, March 31, 2008

Military Honors

Chester H. Jordan, aged 85, died last October 31st in Baton Rouge, LA, after a long illness. I never met him. But his eldest son, a D.C. lawyer, is one of my oldest friends. So, today I left work early to attend the interment of World War II veteran US Army 1st Lieutenant Jordan at Arlington National Cemetery.

More than 16 million Americans fought in WWII; over 400,000 died. Lieutenant Jordan was among the hundreds of thousands wounded. He served in Company K, 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, joining as a replacement officer in July 1944. He fought through the Huertgen Forest and liberated the small Belgian town of Binche. East of Remagen Germany, in late March, 1945, he was hit by shrapnel, and returned to the States thereafter. In addition to the Purple Heart, Jordan was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star--and wore the Combat Infantry Badge, the so-called "fighting badge."

Originally from Texas, Lt. Jordan completed an architecture degree after the war at Texas A&M (thereafter practicing in Dallas) and, following postgraduate study at Princeton, taught architecture at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He picked up a Masters at Harvard in 1960-61, then spent the rest of his career at LSU. He married a University of Tennessee graduate in August, 1950--a union lasting 57 years. I met Mrs. Jordan for the first time today; she's grand, graceful and gorgeous.

After retiring from teaching in the early 1980s, Chester Jordan combined contemporaneous letters from the front and later recollection into a memoir called "Bull Sessions." Though never published, his manuscript circulated among historians and was quoted by several, including Stephen Ambrose, in the Afterword to "Citizen Soldiers." I've read parts of Bull Sessions, which displays a flair for words, a sense of humor and history--and an architects eye for structure and terrain.

The most intense fighting of Lt. Jordan's war took place in the Stolberg corridor east of Aachen. Jordan and a handful of men found themselves in the outbuildings of a castle called the Frenzerburg (sometimes Frenzenberg), fighting a raid-and-counter battle with the German paratroops inside. While it ended anticlimactically, it resulted in Jordan's Silver Star and the Medal of Honor for his bazookaman, Pfc. Carl V. Sheridan--the only MOH awarded to a WWII 9th Infantry soldier [12:40 am NOfP note: I'm told there were four others; so much for trusting Wikipedia]. Sheridan's official MOH citation says:
Attached to the 2d Battalion of the 47th Infantry on 26 November 1944, for the attack on Frenzenberg Castle, in the vicinity of Weisweiler, Germany, Company K, after an advance of 1,000 yards through a shattering barrage of enemy artillery and mortar fire, had captured 2 buildings in the courtyard of the castle but was left with an effective fighting strength of only 35 men. During the advance, Pfc. Sheridan, acting as a bazooka gunner, had braved the enemy fire to stop and procure the additional rockets carried by his ammunition bearer who was wounded. Upon rejoining his company in the captured buildings, he found it in a furious fight with approximately 70 enemy paratroopers occupying the castle gate house. This was a solidly built stone structure surrounded by a deep water-filled moat 20 feet wide. The only approach to the heavily defended position was across the courtyard and over a drawbridge leading to a barricaded oaken door. Pfc. Sheridan, realizing that his bazooka was the only available weapon with sufficient power to penetrate the heavy oak planking, with complete disregard for his own safety left the protection of the buildings and in the face of heavy and intense small-arms and grenade fire, crossed the courtyard to the drawbridge entrance where he could bring direct fire to bear against the door. Although handicapped by the lack of an assistant, and a constant target for the enemy fire that burst around him, he skillfully and effectively handled his awkward weapon to place two well-aimed rockets into the structure. Observing that the door was only weakened, and realizing that a gap must be made for a successful assault, he loaded his last rocket, took careful aim, and blasted a hole through the heavy planks. Turning to his company he shouted, "Come on, let's get them!" With his .45 pistol blazing, he charged into the gaping entrance and was killed by the withering fire that met him. The final assault on Frezenberg Castle was made through the gap which Pfc. Sheridan gave his life to create.
The saga of 20th century New World technology taking down a 16th century Old World castle is so preciously romantic that I refuse to fact-check the award. Lt. Jordan was the officer who first recommended posthumous recognition of Sheridan's valor.

In a funereal drizzle, after a brief service at the Old Post Chapel on Ft. Myer, with a band and escort platoon, a trumpet blowing "Taps", a three volley salute and the installation of a wreath by the Government of Belgium, Army 1st Lieutenant Chester H. Jordan was buried at Arlington today. I never met him. But through his son, his writings and our nation's shared history, I knew him. And I was proud to observe and underscore America--and a town liberated by Americans--honoring Lt Jordan's life and service. The honors rendered to him honor us all.

Requiescat In Pace.


Funeral photos and accounts by Scott F. on the "Wild Bill" Guarnere board.



Iowa_John said...

Godspeed, Lt. Jordan.

Maggie said...

Carl -

It was an honor to attend this tribute to Doug's DOD. I will remember it always. Pride for our military is an understatement when I think of how wonderful the Guard looked, and the band played. Lt. Jordan would have been pleased and proud.

It was also an great pleasure and honor to meet folks such as you and some of those from WBG. Lt. Jordan's last deed was to bring some of us together to meet face to face and to show Doug and the Jordan family our gratitude and support.


Carl said...




Five days on, Monday's memories remain vast and vivid. That honoring Lt Jordan also allowed meeting you, the Jordan family, and others, was an unexpected extra--as you say, the last gift of Mr. Jordan, assembled by his eldest son.

It speak well for our Army, the Jordans, the WBG community--and for the vast majority of people who "get it." I am today even more proud of, and optimistic for, America.