Private John Alden Chappell
- Unit: 30th Infantry Division, 119th Infantry Regiment
- Service Number: 37606459
- Date of Birth: January 2, 1924
- Entered the Military: March 9, 1943
- Date of Death: June 28, 1944
- Hometown: Parma, Missouri
- Place of Death: near Saint-Lô, France
- Award(s): Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster
- Cemetery: Plot I, Row 22, Grave 11. Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France
Mentored by Ms. Angie Alison
Oak Grove High School
John Alden Chappell grew up in Parma, Missouri, a small town in New Madrid County. His family worked as sharecroppers. Sharecropping meant the family had very little money, so the Chappell family lived without electricity, plumbing, or other conveniences we consider essential for living today.
His parents, Pearly and John, had seven children. Chappell was the second oldest child in his family. His four brothers also served in the military. John served in the U.S. Army. Two brothers served in the Army Air Forces, and a fourth brother served in the U.S. Navy. Their father, John, served in World War I, and their grandfather, Wyatt Jackson Chappell, fought with the Tennessee volunteers for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Chappell had a close relationship with his mother, Pearly Bell. They sang and danced to the Grand Ole Opry that played on the radio. Pearly died of cancer two months before John was drafted. John was also engaged to be married to Nina Cox. Sadly, they never got married, but she received his Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.
He was known for his good looks, great smile, and musical abilities. He sang, played the guitar and the French Harp, and even wrote music. The valedictorian of his eighth-grade class, he later left school to work on the farm, helping to bring in crops to support his family.
He intended to join the Civilian Conservation Corps before being drafted into the U.S. Army.
Life in Parma, Missouri, was somewhat different during wartime. Many of the young men gone in the area meant many people on the homefront stepped up to take their jobs. The local newspapers included the names of the young service members who died overseas. Many people learned about these deaths through the newspaper.
Chappell’s younger sister, Lula, recalled the day that two men came to their house and told her father about her brother’s death. She remembered how this news crushed her dad.
Private John Alden Chappell served in the 119th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division. The 30th Infantry Division, composed primarily of men from southern states, was nicknamed “Old Hickory.” The 119th Infantry Regiment was activated on September 10, 1942. The unit trained at Camp Blanding, Florida, and Camp Atterbury, Indiana, before moving to Boston. The division sailed for Europe in February 1944, and the 119th Infantry Regiment trained in Liverpool, England, before the invasion. They landed in France on June 15, 1944, and served in combat until April 1945.
The division was ordered to advance toward the town of Saint-Lô. The 30th Infantry Division was a part of Operation Cobra, an allied offensive against the Germans to advance beyond the Norman hedgerows. The battle was brutal, and confusion and wind changes led to friendly fire attacks that made the operation more challenging. Private Chappell died in Operation Cobra on July 28, 1944.
We are here today to honor the memory of John Alden Chappell. On July 28, 1944, John was a 20-year-old soldier when he was killed near Saint-Lô defending his country and liberating France. What an honor it is to stand here today and reflect on John’s life and his contributions to the invasion of Normandy.
John grew up in the bootheel of Missouri in a small sharecropping community known as Parma. He was known for his good looks, his great smile, and musical abilities.
In March 1943, John became the third generation of Chappell men to have served. His grandfather, Wyatt Jackson Chappell was a Civil War Veteran fighting as a Tennessee Volunteer for the Confederacy. His father, John Allen Chappell served his country during World War I. Three of John’s brothers also served their country during World War II – two served in the Army Air Forces and one in the U.S. Navy.
John left behind his father, brothers and sisters, and his fiancée, Nina Cox. He was preceded in death by his loving mother, Pearly. John and his mom had a very close relationship. Before John was drafted, they could be found listening to the radio, dancing, and singing to the songs on the Grand Ole Opry together.
John received the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster for his service and sacrifice. Even though Mrs. Allison and I never got the chance to meet him I know I speak for us both when I say he is our hero and will live on forever in our hearts. John’s sister, Lou, has never been able to make the trip to pay her respects to the older brother who she remembers so fondly. Lou asked us to look at his grave for her and to pay the respects that she never had the opportunity to do so. We are humbled to take a moment to do so.
The Bible verse, John 15:13, reads, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” We recognize and honor the valor that he showed on the battlefield and the love for his country and family. May the memory of Private John Alden Chappell rest with all of us.
This experience was eye-opening. You can read and see pictures of D-Day as much as possible, but until you are there standing on the beaches, you cannot grasp what it might have felt like and the struggle that so many men went through running and wadding their way to a goal that to many seemed impossible. Riding through the Norman countryside and seeing the tall hedgerows, and seeing the cities rebuilt from the ashes of death and destruction is a lot to experience. And if that’s a lot for me to take in, I cannot imagine what it was like for the men who were seeing it for the first time, but instead of being on a trip, they were in a war being shot at with no chance really to enjoy the beautiful landscape where they fought. War changes people, places, and ways of thinking. This war changed many families and the future of our civilization as a whole. This war changed all of Europe, especially Normandy, France, which beaches and towns will live in infamy due to the massive loss of life and the tremendous amount of courage shown there.
Most of all, I believed I learned what the sacrifice for freedom means to me during this experience. The sacrifice for freedom is a sacrifice many people made whether that be if you were at home or overseas everyone it seems sacrificed their way of living, their lives and things precious to them just so future generations could live in a time of peace and be able to live free lives that they sacrificed.
Chappell, Donald. Personal interview with author. February 27, 2014.
Chappell Family Photographs, 1943-1944. Courtesy of Lula Chappell Mitchell.
John A. Chappell. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946. ancestry.com.
John Alden Chappell. World War II Draft Cards, Young Men, 1940-1947. Digital images. ancestry.com.
Missouri. New Madrid County. 1930 U.S. Federal Census. Digital images. ancestry.com.
Missouri. Stoddard County. 1940 U.S. Federal Census. Digital images. ancestry.com.
Mitchell, Lula Chappell. Personal interview with author. March 6, 2014.
“The 30th Infantry Division in World War II.” 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World War II. Updated June 28, 2008. Accessed February 23, 2021. www.30thinfantry.org/index2.shtml.
30th Infantry Division Shoulder Insignia. Digital image. Accessed August 5, 2014. Wikimedia Commons. upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e1/30th_Infantry_Division_SSI.svg/650px-30th_Infantry_Division_SSI.svg.png.
“John Alden Chappell.” Find a Grave. Updated July 25, 2021. Accessed February 23, 2021. www.findagrave.com/memorial/94190224/john-alden-chappell.
“Pvt John Alden Chappell.” Find a Grave. Updated August 8, 2010. Accessed February 23, 2021. www.findagrave.com/memorial/56643180/john-alden-chappell.
Editor’s Note: Chappell’s Draft Registration Card notes his birthday as January 2, 1924, but the memorial marker placed by his family in Bernie Memorial Cemetery in Bernie, Missouri states he was born in 1925.