Carrying the Torch

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ralph Chatfield was home in Franklin Furnace for a sad duty, to attend the funeral of his grandfather, Edward McCleese.

“I found out he passed away, while in transit,” Chatfield said. “So that made it a little harder.”

Chatfield, a U.S. Army sergeant on active duty in Iraq, spent three days making the trip from the Baghdad region back to Ohio on emergency leave. He was in Greece when he got the word his grandfather had died.

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“They gave him 24 hours to live and I was notified via a Red Cross message,” Chatfield said. “I think it’s almost a 10,000 mile trip.”

Serving in the military is a family tradition and Chatfield is a fourth generation combat veteran.

Chatfield’s great-grandfather was in the Army during World War I, McCleese served in the Navy during World War II, an uncle, Fred Prine, served in the Army and did tours in Vietnam, Grenada and Panama. Chatfield’s father, Benny Kilgore served in the Air Force. Chatfield is on his third tour of Iraq with the Third Brigade of the 101st Division stationed out of Ft. Campbell, Ky.

Chatfield said it was his grandfather who inspired him to join the military 15 years ago.

He was out of the Marines about 45 days before he joined the Army.

“I wanted to be in the military again, I joined the Army for a change of pace,” Chatfield said. “I joined because of tradition and pride. It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

It was his grandfather who told him he should be a Marine.

“Because Marines are attached to the Navy it was OK,” Chatfield said.

It was McCleese who got his grandson into the Ironton VFW Post 8850. And last year the two men were in the Memorial Day Parade together.

“I think Papaw has been in the Memorial Day Parade every year for 60 years,” Chatfield said. “He was the oldest World War II vet in the area.

Chatfield is a mechanic in Iraq. That doesn’t mean he and his unit hang around a garage all day.

It is the job of Chatfield’s unit to retrieve the Army’s wheeled equipment that has been rendered undrivable. Sometimes, a truck or a Hummer can be fixed and driven off. Sometimes, they are under enemy fire.

“We have to recover a vehicle by any means necessary,” he said. “We take our own security with us. Sometimes, we just hook and go. We can repair it later.”

“We do power missions, combat patrols, stuff like that,” he said. “Everybody does a little bit of everything there.”

Chatfield said it isn’t too bad for him in Iraq, although he doesn’t know what other soldiers go through.

“I would rather be there with my soldiers,” he said.

At his grandfather’s funeral on Tuesday, Chatfield had to perform one final duty for the man who inspired him to begin his military career.

He presented the flag that covered the veteran’s casket to the widow.

“That is a very unique thing.” Chatfield said. “That is unheard of. But I wanted to do it because he was the one who inspired me.”