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Chuck Chase

 

Date and Place of Birth: November 27, 1946 San Mateo, CA
Date and Place of Death:    June 11, 1968 Kontum Province, South Vietnam
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Outfield
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Military Unit: A Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division US Army
Area Served: Vietnam

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”.
John Quincy Adams


To those who knew Chuck Chase, our sixth President provides an accurate and indelible description of his very short and courageous life. Often described as “personable”, “dedicated” and “quiet” by his high school friends, Chuck possessed amazing prowess as a baseball athlete. He would prove to be a “man among boys” growing up on the sandlots of San Mateo, and later, he would be remembered as a much heralded and respected platoon leader in the harsh jungles of South Vietnam.

Charles Joseph Chase was born on November, 27, 1946, in the small town of San Mateo, California, located about twenty miles south of San Francisco. Chuck attended San Mateo High School where he prowled the outfield for three varsity seasons. Blessed with a terrific arm and intuitive smarts as a base runner, Chuck also possessed Bunyanesque power from the right side of the plate. Teammate Bob Patterson recalls that Chuck “could hit the ball further than I ever remember seeing for a high school player”, at the time. [1] But perhaps what stands out most often from Chuck’s prep career was how much he was looked up to by others, and how he carried himself as a leader on and off the field. Many classmates predicted that he would be a success in any profession he chose to pursue.

Chuck graduated from San Mateo High in 1965, and then attended the nearby College of San Mateo, a local community college with a well known baseball program. In January of 1966, Chuck achieved the boyhood dream of many, as he was drafted in the first round of the Major League Amateur Draft (18th overall), by the Minnesota Twins. He was immediately assigned to their rookie team in Sarasota, Florida, in the newly renamed Gulf Coast League.

The Gulf Coast League consisted of five teams, the Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Saint Louis Cardinals and the Minnesota Twins. The league would play a 60 game season during the sweltering months of July and August. Each team played a 48 game schedule, with most games being played at night at Payne Park. Although the play was professional, development of the players was the main objective of the league. Season tickets could be had for as little as ten dollars each (about 17 cents a game), with exhibition games during the day that could be attended for free. The Gulf Coast League was touted as “baseball’s biggest bargain” of the day.

Chuck transitioned easily to his new surroundings and immediately earned himself a starting spot in right field for the GCL Twins for the 1966 season. Appearing in 45 games, he registered 160 at-bats, 43 hits, 8 doubles, 1 triple, and a home run. His batting average of .269 was good enough for seventh place in the league. At the age of nineteen, speculation of a baseball promotion seemed eminent. But with the war in Vietnam ramping up, fate met Chuck in the form of a dreaded military draft notice.

Entering the service in the fall of 1966, Chuck spent the following year training and developing as a leader. After basic training, he took advanced infantry training and then graduated from the Non Commissioned Officers Candidate Course, at Fort Benning, GA. Soon after, Chuck received his orders to report to Southeast Asia. On April, 12, 1968, Chuck landed in South Vietnam to begin his tour with the Army’s “Ivy Division”, or Fourth Division. Since Chuck had quickly earned his sergeants stripes, he was assigned a platoon command within Company A, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry. His men loved and respected him. Self assured with a level of maturity beyond his years, Chuck put the care of his men first and foremost.

The 35th Infantry was involved in heavy fighting when Chuck first arrived “in country”. All through April and early May, small arms fire and sporadic ambushes plagued most patrols. Minefields claimed at least one service member on May 30. On June 2, Chuck’s own unit received 25-30 NVA mortar rounds resulting in two US wounded. On June 4, two NVA Companies attacked three US positions, including Chuck’s own Company A. While the attack was repelled, US losses were 3 KIA and 23 wounded. Immediately after, plans were quickly made to suppress an expected counter attack as US troops quickly fortified their defense positions, reinforced troop strength, and resupplied their ammo. The wait was excruciatingly tense.

On June 11, 1968, the wait was over. NVA troops attacked the perimeter of Chuck’s position and a raging firefight ensued. Returning fire and scrambling for cover, coordinates of enemy positions were shouted into radios to awaiting artillery and mortar crews just off the front lines. Within moments, shells began dropping from the sky in an attempt to hold back the NVA advance. Inexplicably, the rounds fell short of their planned targets and began landing on US troops. When the smoke had cleared, Chuck’s platoon had taken the brunt of the brutal mistake. Four were wounded and four were KIA including, First Lieutenant Robert S. Grosshart, SP4 Paul R. Harrison, PFC Gerard T. Wolterman, and sadly, Chuck himself. A beloved platoon leader was now gone.

It seems almost insulting that Chuck’s death was officially labeled as a “misadventure”. Today it would be known as “friendly fire”. While either label is tragic and unbearable, an investigation after the fact produced neither an apology nor reprimand. Simply put, Chuck and his three soldier brothers were victims of a terrible accident. On June 25, 1968, a funeral service was held at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in San Mateo, CA to honor and remember Chuck. Later that day, he would be interred in Golden Gate National Cemetery, a few miles north of his boyhood home, in Plot T - 997. He is remembered forever on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., Pane 58W, Line 23.

In January of 1969, posthumous medals and citations were given to Chuck’s family on his behalf. For service to his country, Staff Sergeant Charles J. Chase was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Individual Citation, and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. His Bronze Star citation reads, “For meritorious service in connection with military operations against an armed, hostile force in the Republic of South Vietnam – Staff Sergeant Charles Chase distinguished himself while serving as a platoon sergeant with Company A, First Battalion, 35th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division during the period of April – June 1968. Staff Sergeant Chase’s cheerful attitude and concern for his men earned him the respect and friendship of the entire company. His outstanding achievements and personal integrity and exemplary devotion to duty are keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect great credit to him, his unit, and the United States Army.” [2]

(Author’s note: In researching this story, I uncovered parallel information that applied to both Dell Chambers, another soldier honored on this website, and Chuck. Both Chuck and Dell played in the Gulf Coast League in 1966 and would have opposed each other several times. The last game between the two pitted Dell’s Braves against Chuck’s Twins on Monday, August 29 1966. The two hour and forty minute affair lasted ten innings, as the Braves finished on top 6 to 4. The win assured the Braves of at least a second place finish in the abbreviated summer league. Within months of the final out of this game, both Chuck and Dell would be drafted into the Army and within a year, find themselves thousands of miles from their homes in South Vietnam. They would die just ten days apart).

© Mark Haubenstein, September, 2012 Permission of use granted.

Sources:
[1] Cacti35th.org (SSG Charles Joseph Chase Memorial Page)
[2] The San Mateo Times, San Mateo, California, 01/29/1969, Page 10
Baseball-Reference.com
TogetherWeServed.com
VirtualWall.org
Operational Report Loses, 4th Division, US Army
The St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, Florida, 06/28/1966, Page 3C
The Sarasota-Herald Tribune, Sarasota, Florida, 08/30/1966, Page 15
The San Mateo Times, San Mateo, CA, California, 06/24/1968, Page 31

Thanks to Mark Haubenstein for contributing this great biography.

Date Added: September 21, 2012

 

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