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Staff Sergeant Lawrence Chastain was born 30 January 1923 near Bennett Spring in Laclede County, Missouri. The son of Benjamin Harrison and Dora Belle (Ford) Chastain, S/Sg Chastain was raised in rural Laclede and Dallas Counties.
S/Sg Chastain was only 6 years old when the stock market crashed in October of 1929. The depression that soon struck the entire country affected the Chastains and many small farms in the Laclede County area. During the depression, young Lawrence was employed at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp near Springfield for 18 months, where he completed the 8th grade.
In the winter of 1942, Lawrence enlisted with the US Army. “[H]e received his training in camps in Texas, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey, later spending some time in Fort Jackson, N.C. and Fort Dix, J.J. before going overseas” (Find A Grave memorial). He left for England in January 1943, where he was stationed with the 4th Division, 22nd Infantry until the Allied invasion of France on 06 June 1944.
According to the 22nd Infantry Regiment After Action Report, “The 22nd Infantry, 4th Infantry Division, landed on Utah Beach starting at H plus 75 minutes.” “The landing was successful, and by nightfall the regiment had a firm toe-hold ashore” (22nd Infantry Regiment Yearbook). After some initial repulsed attacks with severe resistance and heavy losses, the attack continued over the next several days, and the 22nd Infantry eventually made rapid advances. By June 19th, the 22nd Infantry had accomplished this part of their mission and on the 20th “the regiment moved to an assembly area in the south of the Cherbourg Peninsula, where the troops relaxed to the luxuries of baths, shaves, and clean clothes, plus hot food.” (22nd Infantry Regiment Yearbook).
It was during this rare period of rest, on 24 June 1944, that S/Sg Chastain as able to send a letter home. He wrote to his sister, Opal:
Just a few lines to let you know that I am o.k. This is the first time I have had a chance to write and I am writing this in a fox-hole. I won’t get to write very often now for in battle we don’t have time.
I have made it o.k. so far, so don’t worry. Sis, I guess you know how long I have been in France by the radio reports. I have been in the front lines and it sure does change a man.
I have killed several Germans and can shoot them easier than I could kill a rabbit. (Obit)
But the rest wouldn’t last. “On July 7, having been moved to an assembly area south and west of Carentan, the 22nd Infantry attacked, thereby beginning one of its bloodiest engagements of the entire war—the Carentan-Periers operation (otherwise known as “The Battle of the Hedgerows”)… The attack moved with extreme slowness. Enemy resistance in the form of young SS troops and fresh paratroops was stubborn, and the ground was given up to the advance of the regiment yard by yard, and foot by foot. The nature of the terrain, hedgerows with some sections of dense woods, made the effective use of armor virtually impossible. Counterattacks were repeatedly launched; infiltration was incessant; the determination of the enemy was a thing to be respected” (22nd Infantry Regiment Yearbook).
“Major General Raymond Barton’s 4th Infantry Division lost 2,300 men in 10 days of fighting… Barton summed up the situation: ‘The Germans are staying in there just by the guts of their soldiers. We outnumber them 10 to 1 in infantry, 50 to 1 in artillery, and by an infinite number in the air’” (Champagne). After many days of desperate fighting, the Americans finally secured the area and completed their mission, “but the victory had not come cheap, costing more than 15,000 American casualties” (Champagne).
It was during this bloody fighting for every inch of ground in the hedgerows that Staff Sergeant Lawrence Chastain would give his life in the service of his nation. On 09 July 1944, S/Sg Chastain was mortally wounded by an artillery shell. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. He is buried in Plot A, Row 8, Grave 27, at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
A piece of his obituary reads:
He is survived by his parents; three brothers, Claude, Clarence and Martin, of the home neighborhood; and five sisters, Mrs. Opal Evans and Mrs. Louise Jones of Lebanon, Mrs. Omega Brown of Hume, MO and Maggie and Treva Chastain of the home. A grandmother, Mrs. Nancy R. Sartin of Parsons, Kan., also survives. Another grandmother, Mrs. Dulcina Chastain, of Bennett Spring, died only last Monday at the age of 86 years. Sgt. Chastain is among the first of Laclede country’s young men to make the supreme sacrifice in this war. He was a favorite wherever he was known, one of his marked characteristics being a readiness to help others. He enjoyed his army experience and that he was an excellent soldier is proved by his rapid advancement from private to staff sergeant. (Find A Grave)
Find a Grave Memorial https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/80961843/lawrence-chastain
Obit, Laclede County Historical Society. Laclede County World War II Newspaper Clippings, p 17.
Springfield Leader and Press (Springfield, Missouri) 24 Sep 1944, Page 30, newspapers.com
22nd Infantry Regiment, After Action Report, 4th (US) Infantry Division – Battle of Normandy, https://www.dday-overlord.com/en/battle-of-normandy/after-action-reports/4th-infantry/22nd-infantry
22nd Infantry Regiment Yearbook, printed 1947, quoted at http://1-22infantry.org/history2/regthistory.htm
Champagne, Daniel R., Battle of the Hedgerows, https://www.historynet.com/battle-of-the-hedgerows/