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SSgt Berthold Allen Chastain
05 FEBRUARY 2011


02 Feb 1916-27 October 1943
Tsa-La-Gi (Cherokee)
Aviation Technician/Gunner
5th Army Air Force
90th Bomb Group "Jolly Rogers"
320th Bomb Squadron "Moby Dick"

The Purple Heart
Consolidated B-24 Liberator

Image by Al Swilling


Staff Sergeant Berthold Allen Chastain's Remains Found, Identified, and Returned
by Al Swilling
SENAA International
06 February 2011

On 26 October 2010, one day before the 67th anniversary of his disappearance, Berthold Allen Chastain's daughter, Tulie Mae Chastain-Swilling, received a phone call from the U.S. Army informing her that the remains of her father, along with those of the other eleven crewmen of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber, 42-40918, the "Shack Rat", had been recovered and positively identified.

Subsequently, Tulie received further phone calls and a personal visit from members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and from Sgt. 1st Class John Lee from mortuary affairs in Fort Campbell, KY. During that visit, Tulie was presented with, among other things, a book containing the details of search and recovery efforts from the date of her father's disappearance until the recovery of the crew's remains and part of the plane wreckage.

The cause of the crash is speculation based on the events and weather conditions on the day of the plane's disappearance. The wreckage and crew were found on a steep mountainside approximately 200 miles north of where it was estimated that the plane disappeared. Because the plane had been instructed to land at Dobadura, on the opposite side of the peninsula from Port Moresby because of bad weather at Port Moresby, it is speculated that the plane went off course in the heavy cloud cover and crashed into the mountainside as a direct result of the low ceiling.

The wreckage was discovered when a local native found part of a soldier's identification card. The fragment belonged to Shack Rat pilot Jack E. Volz. The Army sent personnel to the area to locate the crash site. The site was spotted, but because of language barriers and the inaccessible terrain, it would be several months before any recovery efforts could be arranged.

Attempts to get to the crash site proved impossible from below, and the mountainside was too steep to afford a landing zone in the vicinity of the crash. Finally a recovery crew was able to access the crash site by landing above the site and repelling down to it on ropes. Recovery was a slow process due to the steep terrain; but the crew's remains and part of the wreckage were eventually retrieved, and the identification process began.

The JPAC official explained that the crew's remains were positively identified using DNA that JPAC had collected from family members over the years for that purpose.

Preparing the Way

Following their visit, JPAC began planning the return of SSgt. Chastain's remains to his daughter for proper funeral and burial. Tulie set the funeral date for 02 February 2011, because 02 February is her father's birthday. Sgt. 1st Class John Lee worked closely with Tulie and with Ralph Buckner Funeral Home to make the funeral arrangements and organize the event.

With mixed emotions of relief and sorrow, Tulie informed local media that her father's remains had been found and would be brought home for burial. Local newspapers, as well as local TV news crews, interviewed Tulie Swilling. The three TV area stations and the Dalton, Cleveland, and Chattanooga newspapers told the story of SSgt. Berthold Allen Chastain and his only child, Tulie Mae Chastain; a story of love, patriotism, loss, and of mourning put on hold for 67 years.

Sometime between 26 October 2010 and the date of the funeral, I was offered the opportunity to travel to Hawaii and accompany my grandfather's remains and the military escort home as a Special Escort. Of course I accepted the honor and made preparations to go.

The Journey Home

In mid-January 2011, Tulie Mae Chastain-Swilling and I were notified that SSgt. Chastain's remains would arrive at the Atlanta International Airport at 07:15 the morning of 29 January 2011. Since I was given the honor of being Special Escort to accompany the military escort from the JPAC facility in Honolulu, Hawaii, I was to fly from Chattanooga, TN, to Atlanta, GA, on 26 January, where I would then fly non-stop to the Honolulu International Airport, then fly back to Atlanta with my grandfather and his military escort on 28 January, arriving in Atlanta, GA, at 07:15 the morning of 29 January.

On the morning of 26 January, I boarded the 08:40 flight to Atlanta at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport. At take-off time, we were informed that there would be a 20-minute delay in taking off due to bad weather and a low ceiling. After 20 minutes we were given clearance to take off, and we approached the runway. As the pilot prepared to take off and let off the brake, the right engine suddenly died. The pilot announced that we had lost the right engine and that there had been no warning lights and no other indication of trouble with the engine. The flight was, of course, cancelled, and I was rescheduled for the next morning, 27 January.

The following day, I was scheduled to board the same flight on the same schedule, but when I looked at the new schedule, it was my understanding that I was slated to board the same plane at the same time. With less than 24 hours to replace or repair the bad engine and properly test it, I did not have a good feeling about the flight and decided not to board. As it turned out, the flight was delayed again to the point where I would have missed my connection in Atlanta to Honolulu even if I had taken the flight. There was no way to get to Honolulu in time to escort my grandfather home, so the trip and the special escort duty were cancelled.

Patriot Guard Riders await the arrival of the remains of SSgt. Berthold Allen Chastain. Photo courtesy of David Andrews, PGR (Click photo to view all 68 photos)

Although I was unable to escort my grandfather from JPAC to Atlanta, I did drive down to Atlanta behind my mother, Tulie, and the funeral director to receive his remains and accompany him on the procession to Cleveland, Tennessee. We were met at the airport's Air Cargo terminal by approximately 100 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that would escort us from Atlanta, Georgia, to Ralph Buckner Funeral Home in Cleveland, Tennessee, as their way of honoring a fallen WWII soldier. I was privileged to be able to speak personally with as many of the Patriot Guard Riders as time permitted; and I am glad that I did. I found them to be fiercely patriotic and deeply respectful of our fallen warriors. Each man and woman who is a member of the organization is there out of a deep feeling of gratitude and sense of duty to those who gave their lives on the altar of Freedom. Each individual that makes up the Patriot Guard Riders is dedicated to its mission.

The U.S. Army Honor Guard who would load my grandfather's remains into the Hearse rehearsed its role several times while awaiting the aircraft that bore his coffin.

When the coffin was unloaded, the funeral director and the military escort who had accompanied SSgt. Chastain's remains from Hawaii, behind closed doors, respectfully removed the coffin from the shipping crate, draped the American flag over the coffin, and prepared it to be received by the Honor Guard.

As the Honor Guard carried the coffin from the cargo bay door to the Hearse, the leader of the Patriot Guard Riders called the riders to attention and to present arms. Every rider saluted and held the salute until the coffin was inside the Hearse and the rear hatch was closed.

U.S. Army Honor Guard salutes after transferring SSgt. Chastain's remains to the Hearse for his journey home. Photo courtesy of David Andrews, PGR

It had been an emotional time for me from the time of our notification until the day my grandfather's remains arrived at the Atlanta airport. It was even more intense as I watched my grandfather's coffin carried to the Hearse and loaded inside for the trip home and the respect with which he was treated by everyone present. It was almost surreal. I had to remind myself that it was finally really happening. My grandfather had really been found and really had come home. The friendship and strength of the Patriot Guard Riders helped me to keep my composure, but there was a flood of emotion trying its best to overcome me. I know that my mother felt the same way. The Patriot Guard Riders surrounded Tulie, ready to lend any support needed as her father's coffin came into her view for the first time. She held up well.

A Hero's Welcome

A Patriot Guard Rider steels Tulie for the appearance of her father's flag draped casket. Photo courtesy of David Andrews, PGR

 As we left the Air Cargo Terminal, the procession of motorcycles, law enforcement vehicles, and escort cars stretched for half a mile in front of the Hearse bearing SSgt. Chastain's remains and the military escort, U.S. Army SSgt. Cherenfant Pierre-Louis. Behind the Hearse were two more Patriot Guard Riders, followed by my car; Sgt 1st Class John Lee's vehicle; an escort car; and law enforcement vehicles that not only cleared our way but rode in the procession to show their respect for SSgt. Chastain. A motorcycle officer blocked intersections, on-ramps and exit ramps as the procession moved forward. Tulie rode with Sgt. 1st Class John Lee.

Along the route from Atlanta to Cleveland, people were pulled over, outside their vehicles, standing at attention saluting or with hands over hearts, showing their respect for the fallen soldier. To them it was more than a show of respect for SSgt. Chastain. To them SSgt. Chastain represented every fallen WWII soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine who paid for our freedom with his life. They were honoring the man and those he represented.

Our route followed Interstate 75 North to the Dalton-Rocky Face Exit, across the bypass in Dalton, GA, to Cleveland Highway, a highway that connects Cleveland, TN, and Dalton, GA. From the time we exited the Interstate, the streets were lined with Whitfield County, GA, citizens who had taken time from their day to witness the procession and show their respects. SSgt. Chastain was a Whitfield County native who had lived there prior to entering the U.S. Army.

Along the bypass, a Whitfield County Fire Department truck displayed a large American flag from its extended ladder. At the Cleveland Highway Station 2, the fire trucks were neatly parked out front, while the firemen who manned the station stood at parade rest as the procession passed. All along Cleveland Highway, the 10 miles or so from Dalton to the Tennessee state line, vehicles were pulled to the sides of the highway and stopped as their drivers stood outside paying their respects. One woman, alone, stood at the roadside in front of her home, hand over heart in respect. Farther along there was a young man with his two children, a boy and a girl who looked to be about 5 and 6 years old. He was saluting as the children proudly held up American flags. At another location, five or six middle-aged men stood together, saluting as we passed. Those are but a few examples of the patriotism and respect that were demonstrated all along Cleveland Highway.

At roughly the mid-point between Dalton and the Tennessee state line, another group of 50 or more Patriot Guard Riders joined the procession, falling in ahead of the Hearse. At one particular rise along Cleveland Highway, the highway can be seen for a full mile before it curves right and disappears behind the trees. As I topped that rise, I saw that the motorcycles, riding two-by-two, stretched the full mile and disappearing around the curve. The procession was more than a mile long. The miles between the state line and Cleveland were a continuation of the public display of respect and patriotism that we had witnessed in Georgia.

When we arrived at Ralph Buckner's Funeral Home, flags lined the curb and outlined the parking area, also courtesy of the Patriot Guard Riders. We were met by Cleveland mayor Tom Rowland and an Honor Guard from a local Army installation. The Patriot Guard Riders and all present were called to attention and saluted as the flag-draped casket was ceremoniously removed from the Hearse and taken inside.

Several times during the proceedings, Patriot Guard Riders expressed their gratitude to the family for being allowed the honor of escorting SSgt. Chastain home. To his family it was we who were honored by and grateful for the Patriot Guard Riders' respectful, patriotic demeanor, as well as their genuine concern for the family. I cannot adequately express or express often enough how grateful we were to the Patriot Guard Riders for all that they did to ensure that SSgt. Chastain received the honor and respect that he deserved.


To view all photos, click HERE
Photos courtesy of Patriot Guard Rider David Andrews


The Funeral

On Wednesday, 02 February 2011, the funeral service for SSgt. Berthold Allen Chastain was held in the chapel of Ralph Buckner Funeral Home. The chapel was filled to capacity with family, friends, and military personnel. Again the Patriot Guard Riders participated. Also in attendance were a U.S. Army honor guard; the military escort SSgt. Pierre-Louis; Sgt. 1st Class John Lee; several World War II Veterans, including one Veteran of the 90th Bomb Group, 320th Bomb Squadron who had served in the squadron at the same time as SSgt. Chastain; members of local law enforcement; Mayor Tom Rowland; and SSgt. Chastain's last surviving brother, Clifford Chastain, who had spent two years in a Japanese POW camp during WWII.

During the service, SSgt. Chastain's granddaughter, Tina Swilling Falkowski, sang "Where the River Meets the Sea". I gave a brief talk about how our grandfather had influenced the lives of my siblings and myself. His grandson, my brother, Stephen Swilling, sang the Tsalagi (Cherokee) song "Guide Me, Jehovah" in the Tsalagi language after reciting the English translation of the lyrics. A family friend, Dale Peter, played a saxophone solo in our grandfather's honor.

After the funeral service was concluded, everyone moved outside where a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber did a low altitude flyover, dipping both wings as a salute in honor of SSgt. Chastain's service as an airman.

Patriotism and Honor

The funeral procession to McInturff cemetery in Birchwood, approximately 15 miles from the funeral home, was led by the Patriot Guard Riders and accompanied by local law enforcement.

The procession's route was lined for miles with citizens paying their respects, four deep in some areas. At the intersection of Keith Street and 25th Street, two fire engines, ladders extended to form an archway, displayed a giant American flag over the funeral procession's path. Firemen standing beside the engines and at the top of the ladders saluted as we passed. In front of Cleveland Middle School, the students lined the route. It was an overwhelming display of gratitude and patriotism that SSgt. Chastain's family will never forget. (See photos). We are forever grateful to all who worked to ensure that my grandfather, SSgt. Berthold Allen Chastain was given a respectful and patriotic welcome home.

A Hero's Farewell

At the grave site, SSgt. Chastain was given full military honors with a 21-gun salute. As a matter of course, his daughter, Tulie Mae Chastain-Swilling, was presented with the flag by Sgt. 1st Class John Lee.

SSgt. Berthold Allen Chastain was buried at McInturff cemetery, approximately one mile from his daughter's home.


More photos to come on BAC Gallery page
Photos courtesy of Al Swilling, Mignonne Swilling, and Dalton Daily Citizen
Heartfelt Thanks, Photos, and Further Reading

The Swilling and Chastain families' deepest heartfelt thanks go out to JPAC; Sgt. 1st Class John Lee of the Joint Mortuary Affairs; Military Escort SSgt. Cherenfant Pierre-Louis who escorted my grandfather home; Ralph Buckner's Funeral Home; those who prepared the grave; all the Veterans' organizations in the Atlanta, Dalton, and Cleveland areas;  and especially to the Patriot Guard Riders, and the various other Veterans' organizations for making the discovery, recovery, return, and proper burial of my grandfather's remains possible; and for giving him--and all fallen soldiers--the respect and honor that they deserve.

Our sincere thanks also go to the citizens who lined the routes of both the procession from Atlanta and the procession to the cemetery. We especially want to thank the teachers, principal, and students at Cleveland Middle School for honoring SSgt. Chastain and all fallen warriors in such a moving and beautiful display of respect and patriotism.

Below are links to photos, along with links to some of the newspaper articles and photos that tell the story of Staff Sergeant Berthold Allen Chastain's long trek home and how he was received.


Links to articles about the recovery and return of a fallen soldier:
  Note: Each link opens into a new window or tab. Simply close the page to return to this index.

01-Soldier's Remains Returned to Daughter after 67 Years

02-War Hero's Body Recovered After 67 Years

03-WWII Airman's Remains Return Home

04-Soldier's Body Returned to Cleveland

05-Airman's Remains to Pass Through Dalton

06-Father's WWII Remains Returned to Daughter After 67 Years

07-WWII Flyer's Remains Escorted Home

08-Berthold A. Chastain

09-Staff Sgt. Chastain Laid to Rest

10-The Other Chastain

11-Farewell to World War II Soldier: Airman Berthold Chastain is Buried

12- Patriotic Display

Patriot Guard Riders Photos

Remains of World War II Soldier Arrive in Cleveland, Tennessee

Soldier's Body Returned After 67 Years

Remains of WWII Gunner Chastain Flown Home

WWII Soldier Returns 67 Years After Fatal Crash



Shack Rat Crew At Last Laid to Rest on Home Soil
Services Held at Arlington National Cemetery on 03 & 04 August 2011
for Recovered Pilot and Crew of B-24 Bomber 42-40918, the "Shack Rat"—With Photo Gallery




Patriot Guard Riders - Standing For Those Who Stood For US
High Tech Redneck Dixie Region PGR Photos
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