World War II Veteran is a profile in courage, humor and humility

Meet Wendell from Wilkesville 

Wendell Earl Chapman is what some around Southeast Ohio might call a “card.” 

He’s a soft-spoken man, but he’ll talk your leg off—as he’s earned the right. “Wendell,” as he’s affectionately called, is a source of pride around these parts.  

Chapman was part of some of the first replacement groups that followed D-Day on June 6, 1944. Assigned to Company F, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, he fought in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest—the longest battle in U.S. Army history—the Normandy campaign, the Siegfried Line campaign and the Battle of the Bulge.    

Chapman is one of the last living World War II veterans in Vinton County. Born, raised and retired in Wilkesville, he has always called Southeast Ohio home.     

Can I take your picture? 

“It’ll break your camera.” 

What were you doing before the war?   

“I just got out of high school. I was 18 on the second of August that year, and in October, I was in the army. They wanted replacements; I was inducted in. They put me in the Fourth Infantry Division. Our division lost over 35,000 men.    

“It was cold in that winter—sometimes it got 30 below zero. The ground was so hard—we’d go to dig a foxhole and the ground was frozen. It was so cold our lips would freeze and bust open. I had never had any experiences like that.”   

What did you do after your service?   

“I went to college on the G.I. Bill. I went to Rio Grande and I went to Ohio University (Athens). I taught school in Wilkesville for six years and they consolidated, and I ended up down there in Jackson. … I enjoyed being a teacher. Me and my wife don’t have children so I’ve always said the kids I have in school are my kids. I enjoyed teaching … I taught social studies. I’ve been retired 37 years … I liked geography, world history, American history.” 

What do you like to do for fun?   

“I like to do woodworking. I’ve been making a couple of rocking airplanes—rockers for children that they like to run and get on. I’ve made rocking puppy-dogs, and I just finished a rocking zebra. I’ve made a rocking golden retriever. It gives me something to do.   

“I’ve been doing woodworking for six, seven, eight or nine years. I got a little shop out there. I think it’s one of the things that can stop veterans from commit suicide—I think it’d give them something to do … My grandmother told me whatever you do, you have to have something to keep you busy, and an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.” 

In 2015, Chapman, you were bestowed the highest honor from the French military: the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal, founded by Napoleon. How did that make you feel?   

“I made a simpleton out of myself. (laughs) Everybody was drinking— I drank til I was— I guess I thought I was making up for lost time. Too many people were drinking too much at that time.” 

Chapman is newly 95 and doesn’t move too fast—he’ll tell you, getting old ain’t easy—but it isn’t hard for him to keep up. He enjoys a nice drive, growing tomatoes and mowing grass. He also likes going out to eat with his friends, a group of other “retired old men” who call themselves the “Romeo Club.” He lives with his wife of many years, Joanne, and their dog, Peanut.