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Veteran's final wish — a Purple Heart for WWII service — is granted

A Purple Heart medal.

TNS FILE PHOTO

By CATHY DYSON | The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. (TNS) | Published: November 11, 2018

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Chilton “Chilly” Raiford held on to the hope that one day, he would get a Purple Heart for injuries suffered in World War II.

The award finally came—73 years after the fact—but that’s not the most interesting timing in this story.

Ten days after he received the honor that goes back to the days of George Washington, the Rappahannock County resident died, on Aug. 14, 2018, at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center. He was 95.

“It was his final wish in life, and it was granted,” said David Sillaman, a retired Navy officer who lives in southern Fauquier County and lobbied for Raiford to get the award. “May he rest in peace.”

Wendy Boice, a Front Royal resident who used to take Raiford to church in Sperryville, heard him talk often about living through two kamikaze attacks, when Japanese pilots purposely crashed their planes into American ships. He wanted all those who suffered trauma and lived with the emotional baggage to be acknowledged, Boice recalled.

“His goal was not so much for him but for all those who were involved,” she said. “By him receiving the medal, they, too, would get recognition of what happened.”

Raiford was aboard the USS Randolph on March 11, 1945, when a twin-engine Japanese bomber crashed into the starboard side, killing 25 men and wounding 106 others. The attack was the 1940s version of a suicide bomber.

The impact knocked Raiford unconscious, and when he awoke, he ran to the damaged area, in the midst of detonating bombs and burning fuel “at great risk to his own life,” according to a citation written by Fleet Adm. William “Bull” Halsey.

Raiford suffered a brain injury and lost hearing in his left ear. A second kamikaze attack came later, as did 12 fires aboard the carrier, and the service left Raiford in the “shell-shock ward” of a military hospital.

In those days, doctors didn’t have a term for post-traumatic stress syndrome. Raiford’s wounds were invisible, and Purple Hearts of the past were given only to those with visible physical injuries.

That has changed in modern times, as the Department of Defense allowed a more standard way to evaluate what was called a “non-penetrating wound.” Changes in 2011 were made retroactive to 2001, but didn’t go back to the WWII era and service members known as the Greatest Generation.

When The Free Lance–Star wrote about Sillaman’s efforts to get a Purple Heart for Raiford in November 2016, Rep. Rob Wittman, R–1st District, said there are acts of sacrifice that should be remembered, no matter the era.

“The Purple Heart offers that honor and that recognition,” Wittman said, adding that it’s incumbent on current generations “to fulfill the obligation we owe folks like Chilton Raiford.”

Raiford was buried at Culpeper National Cemetery after a funeral at Reynolds Baptist Church in Sperryville. The man who went on to a successful career in retail shoe stores was remembered by his six children, eight grandchildren and friends, such as Leslie Broockman, who posted on his online obituary that he was “a rare jewel of a Virginia Gentleman.”

Boice would add that he had a great sense of timing.

“I do believe he held on” for the Purple Heart, she said. “Many times, he commented that he was praying it would happen before he ‘went home.’ I’m glad his prayers were answered.”

©2018 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)
Visit The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at www.fredericksburg.com/flshome
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