SOUTHSIDE — A Medal of Honor recipient from World War I was recently disinterred from his original gravesite in Mason County and reinterred in a place of honor.
The late Chester Howard West, who has been dead for over 80 years, was reportedly born Jan. 3, 1888 in Fort Collins, Colo. Records show he was a First Sergeant who served with the U.S. Army, Company D, 363rd Infantry, 91st Division. His Medal of Honor citation reads: “While making his way through a thick fog with his automatic rifle section, his advance was halted by direct and unusual machinegun fire from 2 guns. Without aid, he at once dashed through the fire and, attacking the nest, killed 2 of the gunners, 1 of whom was an officer. This prompt and decisive hand-to-hand encounter on his part enabled his company to advance farther without the loss of a man.”
Reportedly, these actions took place in 1918 in France. He was also reported to have been awarded England’s Victoria Cross, France’s Croix de Guerre and the Military Order of Italy.
After serving in the United States Army and receiving a Medal of Honor for his actions during World War I, West began a new life with his wife Elizabeth Van Sickle in Southside. West began working as a farm hand for Sam McCausland in Mason County. News reports at the time said West was shot by McCausland in 1935 and died from his injury. McCausland was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder. West was laid to rest at a family plot in Southside at the Van Sickle Cemetery. West’s gravesite was eventually lost, becoming a part of the Cornstalk Wildlife Management Area in the 1970’s.
Alice Click, a cemetery researcher, stated, “He was buried up there in the cemetery and then whenever the state closed the road and the family members were no longer able to get back there to clear the brush and the trees, the cemetery actually became nothing but a wilderness, so you have inside of this wilderness a man who not only got a Medal of Honor from the the United States, but from five other countries.”
In 2012, Jack Crutchfield from “Obscurely Famous” made an attempt to recover West’s gravesite, but was unsuccessful; however, Click said, a local Eagle Scout from Mason County, Derrick Jackson was watching the show.
Jackson stated, “The reason I chose to find him is a combination of no one in the community really knew about the cemetery, let alone that a MOH (Medal of Honor) recipient was in it, and through my family and the Boy Scouts, I have always been taught to honor soldiers like West. Then, to see the condition that the cemetery was in, there was no doubt in my mind that I had to do it as my Eagle Project.”
After the recovery of West’s gravesite, Click explained she, her husband, and Herschel “Woody” Williams, World War II Medal of Honor recipient, went on a hike to visit the gravesite. After the visiting West’s gravesite, Williams felt his fellow solider deserved a more honorable gravesite.
“Woody Williams got involved because he is one of the very oldest Medal of Honor recipients for World War II, so that was his mission,” said Click.
Williams was successful in his quest to have West disinterred and laid to rest in an honorable gravesite. Click explained Williams’ case for West reached the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
On May 12, West was reinterred at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar.
Click said she attended the ceremony held for West.
“It was a tremendous service, they started out in Huntington at the funeral home. They had 50 military motorcycles for the escort and five of those big black Suburbans from the government and then they had so many vehicles from the national guard…it was quite an experience,” stated Click.
Some biographical information for this article from the Charleston Gazette-Mail, The State Journal, The Stars and Stripes and TogetherWeServed.com.
Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.