E Company, 511 PIR
09/23/23 - 06/23/99 (Age 75) - gravesite
Citations: Combat Infantryman Badge, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation Badge, Philippine Liberation Medal with service star, the American Defense Medal, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three Battle Stars and one Arrowhead
Locations: Camp Toccoa, GA; Camp Mackall, NC; Fort Benning, GA; Camp Polk, LA; Dobodura, New Guinea; Leyte; Luzon; Japan
Louis Oved Chemin (SN 38381434) was born at home on September 6th, 1923 at Magnolia, Louisiana to Manie Chemin and Ema Arnold.
While attending Baker High School, Louis worked at Stone & Webster's rubber plant in Baton Rouge. He registered for America's draft on June 30, 1942. Standing 5' 10.5", the blond haired, blue-eyed Louis tipped the scales at 168 pounds. Then, with only three years of high school behind him, during his senior year Louis was officially drafted and formally entered the service on February 23, 1943 in New Orleans. As such, the future paratrooper received his high school diploma at the end of that school year in absentia.
After Basic Training, Louis was sent to the 78th Tank Battalion stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky. When the new Private received word that he was going to be made a cook, Louis said that he couldn’t see himself as a cook and when the chance came to volunteer for the paratroopers he jumped at it (no pun intended, of course).
While he does not appear in the regimental yearbook at the time, evidence points to him joining America's newest parachute regiment, the 511th Parachute Infantry, which was forming at historic Camp Toccoa, Georgia in early 1943. While he never mentioned the name Currahee nor Camp Toccoa to his family, he surely was there since he spoke often of the trouble they would get into at the famous Wagon Wheel bar outside of the camp.
One evening Louis and his buddies were at the Wagon Wheel and a fight broke out due to some other service unit having divided the dance hall with chairs. The dance floor was on the opposite side from the paratroopers and, of course, that was where all the young ladies were. Well, when the music started the troopers started across the chairs to dance with the girls and the other military unit took exception. Louis later said, "it was a for sure fight with beer bottles flying everywhere." He told his family that there was "a rather large bar maid behind the bar" and every time a 511th trooper would get close enough, she would hit him in the head with a beer bottle. Deciding that enough was enough, Louis and a friend fought their way to the bar and his friend caught the barmaid under the chin with a good uppercut. That ended that. Louis said that the Wagon Wheel was a rough place but the troopers never had to cross chairs after that.
Louis' E Company and now-formed 2nd Battalion were sent to join the 511th PIR's 1st and 2nd Battalions then training at Camp Hoffman/Mackall, NC with their parent unit, the 11th Airborne Division. A few months later, 2nd Battalion was sent to Jump School at Fort Benning, GA. Louis later noted that the training at Mackall and Benning was hard, but that pushups were no problem for him due to his high school football training (he played guard on Baker High School’s first football team, just one of the traits he possessed that helped him fit right in with the 511th's cocky paratroopers).
Louis added that when they left Fort Benning he was in the best shape of his life. His hands were tough due to pounding the red clay dirt at Fort Benning so that the hand to hand combat training would be effective. The now-official paratroopers returned to Camp Mackall and Louis and a buddy soon celebrated by making the most of a weekend pass. The two paratroopers hiked up to a cabin where a mountain family lived. When they walked up to the house the lady came out with a shotgun and wanted to know what they wanted. Dad said they heard they could buy some moonshine in those parts. The lady looked them over real good and asked if they wanted it clear or bourbon colored. Dad said colored. So she browned some sugar in a cast iron skillet on her wood stove and mixed it in with the moonshine. The duo paid her and never went back.
Like many of the young paratroopers in Colonel Orin D. "Hard Rock" Haugen's 511th PIR, Louis jumped out of the first airplane he ever rode in (many had never even seen an airplane up close). And like many of the troopers Louis said, "the third jump (at Jump School) was the hardest. The first one was scary because you had no idea what to expect. The second one was scary because you had an idea of what to expect. But the third one you knew damn well what was coming!"
Between January and April of 1944, Louis and the entire 11th Airborne underwent final testing and maneuvers at Camp Polk, Louisiana, a mere 140 miles from his hometown. While home on leave just prior to receiving orders to ship out, Louis became engaged to Bettye Ray Miller, who was in the nursing corps in Baton Rouge with her sister June.
There are some discrepancies as to when Louis headed overseas. The main bulk of the 511th PIR boarded troop trains on April 20, 1944, but Louis seemed to depart a few months later, possibly as late as January of 1945. Since he missed the division's Leyte campaign in late 1944, and a known large group of replacements arrived to the division in late January of 1945, my guess is that that is when he joined E Company.
Regardless, Louis noted that even as his train departed the station and headed north, the paratroopers onboard had no idea where they were going, only that they were officially going to war. Whether it was east to fight Nazi Germany or west to fight Imperial Japan was the question. The Angels soon got their answer when the trains "made big left-hand turns" and the band played "California Here I Come". That settled that: they were going to the Pacific to fight the Japanese.
Louis' train took them right through Baton Rouge where it made a brief stop at the train station where Louis handed a letter he had written to his fiancée, Bettye Ray, to a man standing on the platform and asked him to mail it. Little did Louis know that Bettye Ray was at the station! Many of the nurses would go down to the station when they got word a troop train was coming through to wave the soldiers a vote of support. Had Louis been on the other side of the car he could have handed it to Bettye himself. She was sure surprised when she got that letter a couple of days later postmarked Baton Rouge. The train pulled out and went right through the Exxon Refinery where both Louis' and Bettye's fathers worked.
Arriving in California, Louis boarded the newly commissioned USS General J.H. McRae, a General G. O. Squier-class transport ship bound for Oro Bay, New Guinea. On November 29,1944 the seabound Angels crossed the Equator at Latitude 7 degrees 5’ South and Longitude 180 degrees. Louis was lucky enough to only witness, and not participate, in the induction ceremony into the "Domain of the Golden Dragon Ruler of the 180th Meridian". It was much like the "Order of King Neptune" ceremony that the first group of the 511th PIR experienced back in May, 1944 during their own to New Guinea.
From New Guinea, Louis joined up with the now battle-hardened 511th PIR who in late-January sailed on LSTs to the Island of Mindoro where they waited Operation Shoestring which was launched on the morning of February 3, 1945. The main bulk of the 11th Airborne Division had landed amphibious at Nasugbu, Luzon on February 1 and was pushing inland towards Tagaytay Ridge just south of Manila. Louis and the 511th was scheduled to jump on February 2nd, but the Angels pushing inland from the coast were held up by enemy resistance so the 511th's jump was pushed back a day.
At 0300 on February 3 (X+3), Louis and E Company ate breakfast then geared up in parachutes borrowed from the 503rd Parachute RCT. The Angels’ chutes had been soaked on Leyte, so in a pinch, the 511th used the 503rd’s chutes who would in turn use 1630 of the Angels’ parachutes to famously jump on General Douglas MacArthur’s former bastion, Corregidor, two weeks later.
Louis noted that the regiment's highly respected commander, Colonel Orin D. "Hard Rock" Haugen came on the radio to give them final orders before the jump. Haugen told his troopers that they would be taking no prisoners on Luzon and that they were not to be taken prisoner, but instead to fight to the last man if need be. When asked by his son if he was scared, Louis responded "you didn’t have time to be scared. There was too much going on.:
Louis' E Company under the command of the legendary Captain Hobart B. Wade jumped in the drop's first serial, though many in Easy Company actually jumped early after watching an errant equipment bundle dropped too soon. Louis said he landed in a coconut grove about 16’ off the ground and had to pull out his trench knife to cut the suspension lines. The subsequent fall left the young paratrooper on his backside, but without injury. Louis then removed his carbine from what he called "a violin case" (Griswold container) and it took him about 3 seconds to get it out and ready to shoot.
The 511th lead the 11th Airborne's push into southern Manila, including their breaking of the enemy's monstrous defensive emplacements called the Genko Line. While Louis and E Company were moving along a road next to a sugarcane field, all of a sudden the cane started moving. Thinking it was full of enemy soldiers, the Angels all dropped down ready to fight when a Filipino woman came out of the cane with a couple of parachutes under her arms. Chagrined, one of Easy Company's troopers said "Boo!" and the Filipina took off running and screaming, but the paratroopers noted that she never dropped a chute.
Upon entering the city itself, as Easy was going down a street that was supposed to be secure (the Japanese had supposedly pulled back and left their pill boxes and fox holes empty), Louis noted that the enemy fox holes were dug straight down but had a camouflaged pocket dug to one side so if you looked down the hole you would think it was empty. Louis came up to one such fox hole and looked down and then went moving on. The trooper from Louisiana only walked a few steps when a shot was fired right behind him. When Louis wheeled around he saw a dead Japanese soldier sliding back down into the foxhole. The trooper behind Louis laughed and said, "Its okay Chemin, I got him."
The 511th was now fully engaged in the vicious fight for Manila and soon found themselves fighting in Intramuros, the historic Walled City suburb of south Manila. Many Angels noted that this involved house-to-house and door-to-door fighting, often done alone or in pairs. During the fighting, Louis kicked open a door and there was a pile of dead Japanese laid out in the room. Noticing that one was an officer holding a dress sword with jewels on the handle, Louis went to take it for a souvenir when one of the more experienced troopers said, "Woe! Don’t do that. Check it out first." Louis' buddy then got down on his stomach and saw a small wire going from the dead officer's ring. It was a booby trap.
Later when Louis' platoon was sitting on the curb eating and taking a quick rest among some two story houses, the young paratrooper noticed some shutters that were closed on the second floor of one of the houses. A moment later he looked up and saw the shutters move open just about three inches. Louis told his buddy and they agreed the lieutenant should know about it. Louis got up and walked over to 1st Lieutenant Albert "Nails" Ellison and told him he needed to see this. They both walked back and sat down as if nothing was suspected. Soon the shutters moved again. Lieutenant Nails then called for a BAR and when the firing was done they found several dead Japs in that room.
Not long afterwards, E Company was moving down a road and got word of a Japanese troop convoy heading their way. Easy Company quickly set set up an ambush on each side of the road. One trooper was told to hide in the ditch next to the road and when the last truck came around the bend he was to put a rifle grenade in the radiator of the front truck. The ambush went off perfectly, and Louis later described it as "a slaughter." Easy had them in a crossfire and when the firing stopped, Louis Dad heard someone talking on the driver side of one of the trucks so he went around to see what was going on. There was an enemy soldier on his knees with blood coming out of his mouth, nose, and ears. Lieutenant Nails, a veteran of the bitter and bloody Leyte campaign, had his .45 out and told the Japanese soldier “die you son of a bitch” and then he pulled the trigger. About that time two additional enemy soldiers who had run from the ambush and made it about 40 yards out into a rice patty next to the road stood up, waving a white handkerchief. Lieutenant Nails called to Louis, "Chemin, you and Haydak (?) know what to do." So the two troopers dropped down with their .30 caliber machine gun and took them out.
When asked by his family if he ever felt bad about that, Louis said, "Hell No!" Louis had seen enough of what the Japanese had done to other American soldiers and Filipinos and didn’t give it a second thought. Louis always told his son Louis, Jr., "Son, you can talk about how good of fighters the Japanese, Germans and Koreans are, but there is no fiercer fighter than an American soldier when he gets pissed off!"
One day a young teenage Filipino boy showed up and begged Louis' platoon to let him "kill Japs" with them. Louis said the poor young boy had witnessed the Japanese kill his father and mother and then rape and kill his sister in the enemy's infamous rampage across Manilla. Louis noted that the kid turned out to be a crack shot with an M-1 carbine. When E Company was moving across an airfield, likely the assault on Nichols Field in early February, Louis noted that the Japanese were on one side and the 511th's paratroopers were on the other.
It appeared to E Company that the Japanese didn’t know the exact position of the paratroopers, so they tried to draw their fire by sending a lone soldier down the runway on a bicycle. Louis and his gun mate, Haydak were near the Filipino boy as the teen watched the enemy soldier on the bike. Haydak turned and said, "Chemin, that kid is going to kill that Jap sure as shootin'." And sure enough about the second or third pass down the runway that kid shot the bike out from under him. Louis said "he never saw a Jap run that fast." But unfortunately the Japanese now knew Easy's position and all hell broke loose. That night Easy Company lay in their fox holes listening to the enemy getting worked up to make a charge. It didn’t take long before a Japanese officer jumped up and yelled, "All Americans die! Bonzai!"
The fighting was fierce and when the attack finally ended it was just getting daylight. Exhausted, Louis and Haydak started taking turns sleeping behind their machine gun. There were dead Japanese piled up out in front of them 3 and 4 feet high. Suddenly, a large enemy soldier about 6’ tall wearing nothing but a pair of kaki pants charged Louis' machine gun with a bayonet tied to a bamboo pole. Louis' son Louis would never forget his father describing how he almost cut the charging enemy in two with his .30 caliber machine gun. The dying Japanese threw the spear and it stuck in the ground behind their fox hole. When he finally fell, Louis had to roll his head off of the gun barrel.
Before Louis left home for the Army, his father Joseph made the young soldier promise that he would never volunteer for anything when the fighting started. To his family's knowledge, Louis never did, but when his number would come up for some detail he never refused (except, they noted, to shave of course). One time when Louis' squad was out of water, they drew straws to see who would cross the road to get water out of a stream. Louis drew the short straw, so he tied the canteens together and threw them across. He then backed up to get a running start. When he got to the road he hit the pavement and rolled across. Having filled the canteens he threw them back across and repeated the same crossing taking fire the whole time. Louis' son Louis, Jr. remembers his father telling him this story because neither knew that Louis' wife Bettye Ray was listening. After that, Louis always made sure she wasn’t around when he spoke of the war. Louis, Jr. declared, "He loved my mother more than life."
On February 7, 1945, the 511th's 2nd Battalion was fighting within Manilla's Walled City. Word came down to Easy Company that the Japanese were supposedly trying to make a counter attack. Louis and his buddy, Haydak had dug a shallow fox hole not far from a wall and Louis was told to slip up to the wall and listen for any enemy. As he was squatting down, Louis could hear the Japanese right on the other side of the wall. About that time, he heard them fire a mortar round. Shocked, Louis ran for his fox hole as fast as he could and dived in, but the mortar landed so close it shattered the bones in his right leg just above the ankle and below the knee. Haydak took some shrapnel in his side as well, but was able to jump up and run.
Louis jumped up and tried to follow his buddy, but his broken leg gave way due to his compound fracture. Louis quickly stripped off his pack and took his trench knife and started crawling out. Louis later told his son that he hated to leave his pack because he had a Japanese flag and an officer’s dress sword tied in it (the very one that had been booby trapped and nearly took his life to obtain). The jewels on the handle of the sword would have brought a large sum had he been able to keep it.
About this time the Japanese started over the wall, but three troopers in a jeep with a 30 caliber machine gun mounted on the back saw the wounded Angel trying to crawl. The driver and the front passenger jumped out of the jeep and ran to Louis while the machine gunner sprayed the wall. When they got to Louis, they made a hand basket for him to sit in but they couldn’t run fast enough to suit him. Louis told them there was nothing wrong with his left leg to put him down. He put an arm around each one of their necks and all three ran to the jeep.
Louis would later declare that he was a "one-legged running fool." The rescuing troopers threw Louis onto the Jeep's hood and told him, "Hold on Joe" as they raced to the rear. When they got Louis back far enough, his rescuers gave him morphine and then transported back to a "MASH" unit set up in a bombed out Catholic Church (this was likely the field hospital set up by the 221st Medical Company near Paranaque). That night the medical staff operated on Louis' wounds. When the surgeon came to the table he asked Louis where he was from and the wounded Angel told him Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Then the surgeon let loose with a string of profanity. Louis pointed his finger at him and said, "Don’t you take off my leg." The surgeon then told Louis that he was from Shreveport, Louisiana and he had no intensions of taking off the leg of a fellow Louisianan. The surgeon then declared that he was going to save his leg.
"And he did," Louis, Jr. testified.
Louis' medical records note of his injury: "Diagnosis: Fracture, compound, comminuted with no nerve or artery involvement; Location: Tibia, Shaft; CausativeAgent: Artillery Shell, Fragments, Afoot or unspecified; Diagnosis: Atrophy, progressive muscular."
The treatment was the described as, "Fracture, compound, closed, treatment of, w/splints/casts; or Fracture w/bone fragment removal & cast.
Louis was later put aboard a ship and sent to another island where a bigger hospital facility was set up (likely New Hollandia). The wounded were in tents there and Louis was soon moving about on crutches. There was an outdoor theater set up several hundred yards from Louis' tent which he shared with a wounded Army Air Corps pilot. One evening the pilot asked Louis if he wanted to go with him to the movie, but Louis declined saying he didn’t feel up to the long walk and he wanted to write a letter to his fiancée. The pilot decided not to go as well, but soon after the movie started the pilot sat up on the side of his cot and told Louis to listen. Louis thought he was talking about the movie but he wasn’t. He was talking about a distant drone of an airplane. The pilot then said that it was probably a PBY and laid back down.
As the plane drew closer he sat up again to listen. He said he thought it was a Vought F4U Corsair and laid down a second time. As the plane drew even closer, the pilot jumped up and yelled, "For God sake get under your cot!" About that time the Japanese plane dropped a bomb right in the middle of the outdoor theater which killed and wounded a lot of the already wounded soldiers. Louis said he then heard two American fighters take off. The next morning they were told the fighters caught up with and shot down the enemy plane.
Louis was later sent to Hawaii, but never got off of the ship in the harbor. It was while on that ship that he first heard of the death of his regimental commander, Colonel Orin D. Haugen, who was hit by shrapnel from an anti-aircraft shell. "Hard Rock" died on February 22, 1945. Louis noted that the loss of a man who he respected so highly made him very sad.
Louis' next stop was California and then Memphis, Tennessee to the James M. KENNEDY GENERAL HOSPITAL. While at Kennedy, Louis was officially given his Purple Heart. Also, according to Louis, one day shortly after his arrival, the President of the United States came through the hospital ward he was in, but the recovering Angel was sleeping and no one bothered to awaken him. Louis said he was mad about that. Not sure which president it was, Roosevelt or Truman.
While at the VA hospital, Louis wrote numerous letters to his family, and to his fiancée Bettye Ray. In one of them, he wrote, "Tell your dad that I killed a lot of Japanese before they got me."
One day while on leave from the hospital Louis was sitting on the porch of his family's old country home in Baker, Louisiana with his father, Joseph Emmanuel. The mail rider pulled up in the front yard and got out with a wooden box under his arm. The man then asked Joseph if he had a son named Louis. The elder Chemin said, "Yes, and he is right here", pointing to Louis. The mail rider then walked up the steps and gave Louis the box with Japanese writing all over it. Curious about the package mailed from Japan, Joseph got up and went in the house for a hammer and a screw driver to open the box. The two Chemins were stunned to find a Japanese sword sent to Louis by the 11th Airborne Division's commanding officer Major General Joseph May Swing. By now, General Swing's division was heavily involved in Occupation Duty in Japan and Swing ordered that such a sword or other Japanese weapon be sent to all his troopers who did not make it to Japan.
In later years, Louis said he only saw General Swing twice. Once when they were crossing a creek on stepping stones outside of Wall City, the General was standing there with bullets hitting the water telling his troopers, "Come on. Joe. You only live once." Louis remembered seeing the stars on the general’s helmet and never slowed down. The only other time Louis saw Swing was when the general and a driver were in a jeep. The advance in Louis’ area had stalled waiting on some recon information. General Swing was upset that they hadn’t moved across a bridge so he and the driver started across the bridge when a Japanese machine gun opened on them. The driver put the jeep in reverse and quickly went back down the bridge. When the firing stopping the general asked the driver if he was hit and the driver said no. The general then said "Then let’s get the hell out of this thing!" and bailed out of the jeep.
It is possible that this story was when Colonel Douglas Quandt was left behind on the bridge and had to be "rescued" by a daring squad of Angels.
Early, Louis' platoon was told that the General was coming to the front and their CO, 1st Lieutenant Albert "Nails" Ellison wanted them all to shave for the occasion. Louis said the area they were in was not secure enough and there was no way he was going to pull out a mirror and razor. One guy in his platoon said he was going to shave for the old man. So the trooper got out his razor and lathered up. When he bent over his helmet of water his dog tags fell out of his shirt and were swinging freely just below his face. About that time a Japanese sniper fired a round and just clipped the dog tag chain under the guy’s neck. It didn’t hit him, but it must have hurt because he fell to the ground with his hands clamped around his neck screaming for a medic. After he got up and found out he wasn’t hurt someone asked him if he was still going to shave for the old man. The angry trooper told them to go to hell!
Everyone else is Louis' company roared with laughter.
"My father had great respect for General Swing and for Colonel Haugen," said Louis' son, Louis, Jr. "He also had great respect for a Lieutenant Ellison. Dad also knew a big Indian they called 'Chief' whom I suspect was Alex Village Center of Company D.He mentioned another trooper by the name of Nolan Causey from Alexandria, Louisiana. Later I found out his name was really Nolton Causey. I think he was a platoon Sergeant in my dad’s company, By the time I found that out, both he and my father had died.
PFC Louis O. Chemin received an honorable discharge on October 2, 1945.
What amazes me is that all Louis' stunning frontline stories occurred in a period of only four days, from the time he jumped on Tagaytay Ridge on February 3, 1945 to the time he was wounded on February 7th, 1945 at Wall City in the southern suburbs of Manila. But as Louis, Jr. noted, it was a fierce four days.
Years later, after Louis, Sr. and Bettye Ray welcomed their son Louis, Jr. into the world, in June of 1949 Louis, Sr. was working at the refinery in Baton Rouge and was coming home late one night on his bicycle. Riding past a house the owner sicced his German Sheppard dog on the combat veteran just "for the heck of it". Louis jumped off of the bike and pulled his jack knife after he trapped the dog under the bike and told the man if he ever did that again he would kill the dog. The man called the dog off. It never happened again. Louis went home and put the jack knife in a drawer and never carried it again. Years later when he told his son the story Louis, Jr. asked him why he never carried the knife again. Louis replied, "Son, I’ve killed so many people in my life, I never want to kill another human being as long as I live." And he never did.
One day Louis came home from work and Bettye Ray told him to hurry and get a bath because they had been invited to supper at her parents home. She asked him to put three-year-old Louis, Jr. in the tub, too. When Louis, Sr. got through bathing he put his son in the tub while he shaved. He was standing at the mirror when all of a sudden he yelled out ,"Aye Yi Yi!"
Louis, Jr. looked up and watched his father put his right foot on the toilet lid to examine a knot on the calf of his right leg about the size of a marble. He then said, "Oh I know what you are.” Louis, Jr. watched as he took the blade out of his razor and washed it with some alcohol then poured some alcohol on the leg and cut it open. A black looking jagged piece of metal popped out on the floor. It was a piece of shrapnel he received from that mortar round at Wall City. He then put a piece of gauss on the cut and taped it down with two Band-Aids, put the blade back in the razor and finished shaving. He never said another word about it. He kept that piece of shrapnel in the medicine cabinet for years.
Louis became a welder in the Exxon refinery in Baton Rouge and worked there his entire career until he retired in 1979. He and Bettye Ray were always sweethearts and were as much in love the day he died (June 23,1999) as they were the day they married (Dec.14, 1945). Louis, Jr. remembers that when he was a senior in high school he would take his dog and go hunting at night during the week. Sometimes he would get home around midnight and would hear music playing in the den.
"Mom and Dad were dancing," he explained. "He was a good man, a good father, a good husband and a good hunting and fishing partner. I miss him very much. After my father died my mother gave me his Purple Heart. I treasured it for many years. When my oldest son, Louis O. Chemin, III was 41 years old with a family of his own I gave him my father’s Purple Heart along with this note:
A Christmas Eve Gift - December 24, 2016
This Christmas Eve gift was purchased about 71 years ago a long way from home. It was purchased by your grandfather, Louis O. Chemin, Sr just south of Manila, Philippines in a town called Wall City. The price of the gift was his blood but it nearly coast him his life. The price was willingly paid so that on this day the gift could be given to you with love in freedom and peace. It is most sacred to me along with the memories of him who earned it in February, 1945 on the battlefield against the Imperial Marines of the Empire of Japan. I hope you cherish it as much as I have all these years.
With love and respect,
If you would like to learn more about Louis' exploits within and the history of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II, please consider purchasing a copy of our books on the 11th Airborne Division:
2. DOWN FROM HEAVEN: THE HISTORY OF THE 11TH AIRBORNE DIVISION IN WORLD WAR II - VOL 1. CAMP TOCCOA THROUGH LEYTE CAMPAIGN, available in the regimental online store, on Amazon or wherever military history books are sold.