Tulie Mae Chastain-Swilling, 74, said she was only 7 when she last saw her father, Staff Sgt. Berthold Allen Chastain, who entered the Army Air Corps during the war. The discovery and recovery of his body along with 11 other crew members after more than six decades left Swilling and her five children excited and astounded.
Tina Swilling who lives in Cleveland said she was flabbergasted and delighted at the news about her grandfather. The family is making tentative funeral and burial arrangements with the U.S. Air Force for a possible Feb. 3, 2011 date, which would be Staff Sgt. Chastain’s birthday, according to daughter Tulie.
“We’ve been offered to have his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery where the government is already planning a mass funeral for the entire crew around May (2011),” said Swilling, who lives in Birchwood.
“Our family is planning on attending that event but I’ve been separated from my father long enough. I want his body closer. So I plan to have him buried at McInturff Cemetery nearby.”
Chastain was aboard the Consolidated B-24D Liberator bomber, nicknamed “Shack Rat” with 11 other crew members, when it went missing during an air reconnaissance mission Oct. 27, 1943.
Immediately after the aircraft was reported missing, U.S. Army Air Forces personnel conducted multiple searches but failed to locate either the crew or the aircraft. On Oct. 28, 1944, the entire crew was officially declared dead.
Chastain was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart which was presented to his family. Years later, President Lyndon Johnson issued his daughter Tulie and his mother, Estella Mae Chastain, presidential citations for bravery for Chastain’s ultimate sacrifice.
The American Battle Monuments Commission memorialized the 12 crewmen by including their names on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines.
On Aug. 9, 2003, a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command Investigation Team operating in Papua, New Guinea, received information from a local resident regarding a possible aircraft wreckage site.
In March 2004, a team of investigators returned and attempted to locate the site, interviewing witnesses, one of whom possessed a note with information from one of the missing crew’s identification tags.
The team was able to fly over the crash site in a helicopter and take aerial photographs but poor weather conditions, an inadequate landing zone, language barriers and other problems prevented an up-close inspection and in-depth interviews.
On Jan. 21, 2005, however, another team successfully surveyed the crash site, recovering personal effects, life support items and other evidence identifying the crew. It was reported that the crash site was located on a “very steep and dangerous mountain slope.”
From Jan. 23 through March 8, 2007, a recovery team conducted an excavation of the site and escorted the evidence to a central identification laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii for analysis. Chastain’s remains were also recovered and positively identified through DNA testing.
Al Swilling, 59, grandson of Chastain and a Marine Corps veteran, said he and his siblings often gazed at the photo of their grandfather hanging on the living room wall, dressed in his flight gear and holding a .50-caliber machine gun and wondered what it would be like to have known this “warrior with the kind face.”
“My brothers and sisters and I saw him as a standard against which to measure our own lives; and our father’s strength reinforced that standard,” said Al, who lives in Hixson.
“As the firstborn and as the oldest son in our family, I enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in the 2nd Marine Air Wing as a door gunner and crew member on a chopper during the Vietnam era. I was not drafted as many were at that time. I volunteered.
“Because of the sacrifice my grandfather made to preserve our freedom and liberty, in hopes that justice and equality for our people would someday follow, I saw it as my duty to do my part to defend and preserve those rights for my family, children and grandchildren yet to come.”
Al said his grandfather’s example inspired a deep sense of patriotism and pride in their family.
“His life was also about being a family, helping our friends and neighbors, and defending the rights of all who seek freedom, liberty, justice and equality,” said Al.
Tulie, a former nurse’s aid at Bradley Memorial where she retired in 1999 after 14 years in ICU as secretary, said there is a sense of closure in bringing her father’s remains home but she is certain she will see him again.