WWI Hero about to be center of West Virginia Supreme Court case
It's unlikely that many people have ever heard of Chester Howard West, which is perhaps unsurprising given that he died in 1935. But he was a hero with very few peers. As a lawsuit (that I will discuss in a minute) said of him:
Mr. West was a 20 year old first sergeant in an automatic rifle section of the 363rd'Infantry Regim.ent, U. S. Army's 91st "Wild West" Division. On September 26, 1918, the opening day ofthe Allies decisive, war ending Meuse-Argonne Offensive, West approached German lines near Bois-de-Cheppy, France. "While making his way through a thick fog, his advance was halted by direct and unusual machine gun fire from two guns," according to West's Medal of Honor ·citation. ''Without aid, he at once dashed through the fire and, attacking the nest, killed two of the gunners, one of whom was an ~fficer. This prompt and decisive hand-to-hand encounter on his part enabled his company to advance farther without the loss of a man."
Note that first line, he was a 20 year old First Sergeant. That is astonishing. Guy couldn't legally drink now at 20, but in 1918 he was a first sergeant, responsible for perhaps 140 men. Astonishing.
But now Mr. West will be the focal point of a West Virginia Supreme Court decision, coming next week.
Mr West was subsequently murdered by his boss and buried in a family cemetery located within the Chief Cornstalk Wildlife area owned and managed by the state of West Virginia. Visiting Mr. West is no easy task. The road to the site has a fence around it, and is in such disrepair that most vehicles can't even make it down there.
the real estate surrounding the cemetery was acquired by the State in the 1970s and a road providing access to the cemetery was gated and the road was closed, thus making it difficult to access the cemetery to visit or maintain the same.
Petitioner [more on him in a minute] found the cemetery had been cleared by a Boy Scout as his Eagle Scout project. Petitioner found Mr. Wesfs burial monument was broken and d~teriorated by time and weathering....A newspaper article submitted into .evidence revealed that Eagle Scout Derrick: Jackson reclaimed Mr. West's gravesite and re-erected the headstone as part ofhis E~gle Scout project in May, 2015.
Now, what makes this even more compelling is that the Petitioner in this case is Herschal Woody Williams, himself a Medal of Honor recipient, and quite possibly the nicest person to ever walk the planet. (In fact, my wife told me when I proposed to her that she would only marry me because Woody hadn't proposed to her yet, despite the roughly 50 years age difference.) Not only is Woody the nicest guy ever, he's also a proud Legionnaire, and in fact spoke at our Annual Convention last year, and even discussed people like Mr. West:
Now some of Mr. West's family (by marriage, not lineal descendants, don't want him moved. So they appealed the lower court decision, and it goes before the West Virginia Supreme Court next week.
I'm hoping to make the drive out to listen to the oral arguments.
Medal of Honor recipients are my heroes, and I suspect that is true of everyone. For all I joke about Tom Brady being my hero, the reality is he tosses a football, and he brings me happiness doing it. (More so the last two days.) But for actual heroes, for those I want to discuss with my daughter and the twins I am expecting, it is the Woody Williams, the Ryan Pitts, and the Sal Giuta's of the world that I want to tell my kids about. Mr. West is no different. And I would visit his grave if I could. But with a closed road in such disrepair that just isn't possible. He's a national treasure, truly, and I hope the Supreme Court of West Virginia agrees, so that generations of soldiers and citizens can come and pay homage to a man who saved the world from the evil that could have stemmed from a loss in World War I.