A St. Johns County soldier who died 54 years ago in one of Vietnam’s most famous battles will be honored in October when a new Veterans Administration clinic in St. Augustine is named for him.
The service and sacrifice of Leo C. Chase Jr. has inspired his brother and sister-in-law to continue to serve veterans, through AARP and other volunteer service.
William (Bill) Jefferson, Leo’s brother, served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era, though he did not serve in Vietnam. He was honored by AARP and the National Association of Veterans and Families (NAVF) in May 2019 for his work with Jacksonville’s large community of veterans of the U.S. armed services.
He is a life member of the Leo C. Chase Chapter 1084, Vietnam Veterans of America, St. Johns County. He was also past President of the Chase-Rescorla Scholarship Fund, an organization dedicated to providing college scholarships to low income students throughout St. Johns County. Bill not only advocates for veterans through AARP Jacksonville, but also provides useful information for veterans in his volunteer outreach service in Jacksonville.
Cheryl Jefferson, Leo’s sister in law, was also honored by AARP and the NAVF in May 2019.
Cheryl is also one of the Jacksonville Ladies, a group of volunteers who attend military funerals for veterans at the Jacksonville National Cemetery. The group’s work is modeled on the Arlington Ladies, a group of women who volunteer to attend funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
“We attend so many services where no one – no family or friends – were able to attend the services for a veteran. But we can be there so that no veteran need be buried with no one there to honor their service,” Cheryl said. “Because of all the sacrifices that veterans make for our country and our freedom, it is a very small way to repay what they’ve done for us. Her brother also served in uniform.
But her brother-in-law Leo Chase Jr.’s service as a U.S. Army rifleman may be the most widely known, in part because of the 2002 movie, “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson, which portrayed the Battle of Ia Drang. The movie was based on the book “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway.
Chase, 23, was only five days from finishing his tour of duty in Vietnam when he and other troopers of the U.S. Army’s famed Seventh Cavalry were airlifted into the Ia Drang Valley in what was expected to be a routine operation.
Instead, Chase and more than 230 other U.S. soldiers died and hundreds more were wounded in one of the most fiercely fought pitched battles of the Vietnam War, pitted against thousands of North Vietnamese regulars.
The Leo C. Chase, Jr. Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic will open next month at 207 Stratton Road, Jacksonville.
Monday, Jan 20, 2020 at 8:30am
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