Donald W. Cheff was born 1/1/1913 in Zeeland MI to Paul Cheff and Henriette. He had three older brothers Stan, Ted, Philip and one older sister, Edie . . . all deceased now.
The family moved to Omaha NE during his high school years and he eventually graduated from the U of Nebraska Medical School in 1935. Looking at a map to pick where to intern, he mistook Wilmington DE as a city on the Atlantic. He moved there and completed his internship and residency. By 1943, he was in private practice, married to Elizabeth Cline and father to Donald Theodore and Teri Roberta Cheff. He was exempt from the draft.
In 1944 he volunteered and did basic training in Texas before shipping out to Hawaii with the HQ 302nd Medical Battalion, 77th Infantry Division. By the end of 1944, he and his unit had saved lives in combat during the invasions of Guam and Leyte. In the latter battle, he was awarded the Bronze Star when he commandeered a DUKW, loaded it with wounded on litters and walked alongside the amphibious vehicle as it navigated 300-yards of flooded rice paddies from the fighting to the collection station, of which he was acting CO, to the rear.
On April 16, 1945, the 302nd set up a collection station on an unopposed beach on Ie Shima, a small Japanese-held island just west of Okinawa that housed an airfield and field artillery that could hit our forces invading Okinawa. Far from the fighting again, Capt. Cheff obtained two jeep ambulances and led the duo along a heavily mined sand/dirt road to the front. He returned to the beach with 8 wounded and, as was his nature, returned to the front for a second load despite the hazards. As acting CO, he could easily have delegated this second rescue to others.
On this return trip, his lead jeep hit an inverted aerial bomb or artillery shell that had been buried as an “IED.” All occupants of the jeep perished. Capt. Cheff received the Silver Star and Purple Heart posthumously for this action. It is likely that Capt. Cheff was one of the more highly decorated Doctors in the Pacific theater since doctors were assigned to the rear echelons. He was the only doctor from Delaware killed in any war up to that time. His temporary grave on Ie Shima was one removed from that of famed war correspondent, Ernie Pyle. His remains were subsequently reinterred in the “Punch Bowl” crater – The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific overlooking Honolulu HI. Ernie Pyle’s grave is also there.
Many years later, his oldest brother, my Uncle Stan made his comments to me at our one and only family reunion in Michigan around 1987 +/-. Stan lived until the age of 102. At 102 he was sharp as a tack. He said my father was his favorite sibling. “He was just too caring.” My mother re-married in 1951 and my sister and I were adopted and moved to a 60-acre farm in Ohio which, today, is literally in the center of the relatively new Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
I have no real memory of my father. I mourn his loss eternally.
– Theodore Cheff Krismann and Roberta Cheff Brooks –
For the story of a bronze plaque made to remember Capt. Cheff, Click Here.
For a favorite story by WWII Journalist, Ernie Pyle, Click Here.
© 2019 • by Theodore Cheff Krismann, Roberta Cheff Brooks and the sons and daughters of AWON • All rights reserved.