• For more information about the Museum of Chaffee History or Chaffee Barbershop Museum, go to www.chaffeecrossing.com.
Retired Army Sgt. Maj. Adna Romanza Chaffee IV began his military career straight out of high school in 1959. He was keeping with a family tradition that goes back to his great grandfather, Lt. Gen. Adna Romanza Chaffee Sr., who started his military career as an enlisted soldier in 1861 and rose through ranks to become the second chief of staff of the Army.
Sgt. Maj. Chaffee and his wife Gabby recently returned to Hinesville after he served as grand marshal for a Veterans Day parade at Chaffee Crossing near Fort Smith, Ark., home of Fort Chaffee. Fort Chaffee is named for Sgt. Maj. Chaffee’s grandfather, Maj. Gen. Adna Romanza Chaffee Jr. While at Fort Chaffee, Sgt. Maj. Chaffee also took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Museum of Chaffee History.
“This is the first time I’ve been part of the Veterans Day parade (there),” Chaffee said. “Last year, they asked me, but I was president of the Vietnam Veterans of America (Chapter 789), and had to be here for the (Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 6602) Veterans Day ceremony.”
Chaffee reflected on his own military career and the careers of his great-grandfather, grandfather and father. He said he felt more in common with his great-grandfather, who began as an enlisted soldier then rose to the highest rank possible for an Army officer at that time. Sgt. Maj. Chaffee said he stayed with a career as an enlisted soldier in the food-service field and rose to the highest rank possible for an enlisted soldier.
He sighed a little when he thought about his grandfather, whom he said died of pneumonia when he was only 57, just before World War II started and just as the Army was considering him for his third star. Chaffee Jr. is known as the “Father of Armored Forces.” Sgt. Maj. Chaffee said his grandfather and Gen. George Patton were close friends with the same objective in mind — developing an armored force to support the infantryman.
He said his father, Chaffee III, was sort of forced by his grandfather to go to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but he disappointed his grandfather when he chose to leave active service as a captain and join the National Guard. He wanted to follow a career in business. He said his father never pressured him to follow in his footsteps, but the family’s military heritage was hard to ignore, so he joined the Army anyway.
Sgt. Maj. Chaffee said his oldest son, Daniel, was never encouraged to join the Army, but he did, and his youngest son, Kevin, joined the Air Force. Now his grandson, Chadd, is an airborne communications sergeant. He reiterated that he has never told his children or grandchildren they had to serve.
He said he does want his children and grandchildren and all Americans to remember those who have served and the sacrifices they made. That’s why he’s a member of every local veterans’ organization and takes an active part in veterans ceremonies.
“Nowadays, it’s hard to get people to remember,” Chaffee said. “That’s why we have these ceremonies. We’re trying to get people to remember.”
Joey Chasteen, director of the Museum of Chaffee History and what’s called the Chaffee Barbershop Museum, said the community there is grateful to the Chaffee family and to all those who’ve served. He said 10 veterans’ organizations are working with the Arkansas National Guard and the Chaffee Redevelopment Authority to renovate several World War II-era barracks.
“We started with the Barbershop Museum,” Chasteen said. “It was originally a mess hall that was turned into a barbershop. It was this barbershop where Elvis Presley got his G.I. haircut in the 1950s ... Fort Chaffee was an induction center back then. They either stayed here for basic (training), or they were sent somewhere else. Elvis was sent to Fort Hood, Texas, and wound up serving with the 3rd Armor Division.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony included not only a descendant of Maj. Gen. Chaffee but also Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, Sen. John Boozman, Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Ivy Owen and former 188th Arkansas Air National Guard Fighter Wing Commander Col. Mark Anderson.
Chasteen said Fort Chaffee often has been used as a refuge center, including receiving Vietnamese refugees in the mid-1970s and Cuban refugees in the early 1980s. It also was home to the Joint Readiness Training Center until 1999, when then-President Bill Clinton moved the JRTC to Fort Polk, La. Since that time, about 7,000 acres at Fort Chaffee have been used by the Arkansas National Guard. He said another 68,000 acres are used for other National Guard and Reserve unit training.