Sunday, March 21, 2004
The War Hero
-- by Bill McGuire
Bill Chiodo often wondered how his father came to die after the end of the fighting in Europe. The Army said it was a suicide. Now he's not so sure.
March 21, 2004
This is to certify that the President of the United States of America authorized by Act of Congress … has awarded the Silver Star to Second Lieutenant Godfrey J. Savard, U.S. Army for gallantry in action 17 September 1944…
10 December 1945
Dear Mrs. Savard:
I am referring to the telegram of 28 October 1945 from this office which informed you of the death of your husband, Second Lieutenant Godfrey J. Savard 405th Engineers Service Battalion, on 22 October 1945 in the Mediterranean Area. The military authorities have conducted an investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the death of your husband and the report has now been received in the War Department. This report discloses that Lieutenant Savard in Coserta, Italy on 22 October 1945 committed self destruction with a P-38 revolver. The board of investigation, under Army regulations governing, determined that your husband's death occurred not in line of duty and was the result of his own misconduct.
Just what is a hero, and how durable an honor is it? Just what do we owe our fathers, if anything, and why? Do long ago wrongs have to shadow our lives, or can we simply move on to our own place in the sun?
These venerable questions rattled in the background like loose tools in the trunk as Bill Chiodo of Windsor, Lt. "Fred" Savard's only child, drove me around Groton and New London recently. We drove past the harbor where the Thames River empties into Long Island Sound, past the Navy base, the Submarine Force Museum, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the cemetery memorials on a hill above the town.
"You're right," he said, taking a puff from one of his habitual dark brown cheroots. "It is easier to talk when we're driving." At 60, he is a vigorous looking, broad-chested 6-footer, with a deep voice and short, curly - though rapidly thinning hair.
Talking about his past does not come easy to Chiodo. He bears the surname of his stepfather, whom his widowed mother married when Bill was 11. He says his childhood was fairly normal, despite the absence of a father for most of that time. Yet, he doesn't recall much detail and, except for the presence of older relatives, it seemed to the listener that he had led a lonely existence, one in which he admits he had to grow up fast. Throughout that young life, all that Bill Chiodo knew of his natural father could be summed up in the phrase, he was a hero. And he clung to that.
That image collapsed in 1967 when, as a young Air Force veteran just home from a tour in Vietnam, he was forced to face the true nature of his father's death for the first time. The tragic events of the day in October 1945, when his father died of a gunshot wound to the head, reached up out of the past and seized him. To this day they have not let him go. Instead, they have spurred Chiodo on a mission to restore his father's honor. And to find out if he really did commit suicide.
We returned from our drive to his second home and vacation getaway on the water at Groton Long Point, just opposite Fishers Island. In the living room, Chiodo bent down over 19-month-old Laddy, a combination mostly of Lab and German shepherd, and spoke to him affectionately.
Though Chiodo appears among the most genial of men, there remain places in his life that he has a deep reluctance to revisit. His personal warmth and leadership ability come across at a speaker's lectern before hundreds of veterans, and over a dinner table, one on one. He has a good smile, a rolling infectious laugh and, perhaps most noticeably, once you get to know him, an abiding love for a man who has been dead for almost 60 years.
Sitting by a crackling fire, Chiodo continued to recount the events that led up to his turning point in 1967. "My first wife, Jean, and I were married in 1965, and our daughter Ann was born while I was in country. I came home in May of 1966 and we were living in Concord, Mass., while I was finishing up with the Air Force."
Chiodo explained that prior to early '67, all anyone in the family knew of the circumstances of his father's death - except, as it turned out, for his mother - was that the 30-year-old 2nd Lt. Savard had been shot in often-chaotic post-war Italy. "I must have spoken about it with my wife, wondered aloud about it," he said. "After all, by October of 1945, the war in Europe had been over for months. So how exactly had my father been shot and killed?"
Chiodo's mother, Mildred, or "Mill," remarried in 1954. Officially adopted by his stepfather, Jack Chiodo, Bill grew to fully accept his new stepdad and name. Mildred died in 1959 of complications of alcoholism. She was just 39. "As I look back on it now, I don't think she ever recovered from Fred's death," he said, using his father's nickname. Among his mother's effects, discovered years after her death, was old correspondence with the Veterans Administration dealing with denial of certain benefits to the family.
The discovery came about the same time he was released from the Air Force, in March 1967. He remembered visiting the Veterans Administration offices in Boston to follow up on his mother's post-war appeals. "They showed me a copy of the War Department's Dec. 10, 1945, letter [shown on Page 5] from the CID [Criminal Investigation Division] file. It stated that my father had killed himself. I learned that the Army asserted it was over gambling away funds he was responsible for. Since it was an act of `willful misconduct' and `not in the line of duty,' any benefits were denied."
His father had seen combat in two of the major campaigns in Italy: Rome-Arno and the Northern Apennines. Despite the later blot on his career in the military, it is a matter of record that Fred Savard was a natural leader, well respected by his comrades, a highly competent officer, and a brave and exemplary soldier. While up against some of the best of the well-seasoned, well-led German army, with the U.S. 5th Army, 85th Division, 339th Infantry Regiment, Company A, in bitter mountain fighting in 1944-45, Savard distinguished himself in every way. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge, a Purple Heart, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars for meritorious achievement in combat and a series of promotions. He quickly went from private to technical sergeant and acting platoon sergeant (leader), and after in-theater Officer Candidate School, second lieutenant.
After his Boston visit to the VA offices, the news about his father's apparent suicide weighed on Chiodo. Parental deaths through suicide and alcoholism are heavy baggage for a young son. But he didn't let the Army report penetrate the shell he had first built up around himself early in life to keep out things that were beyond his control. Though his mind was racing with it, he refused to confront the full impact of this information.
Days later, he and his wife were on their way to dinner out with his Aunt Pat and Uncle Roger Walczyk. Pat was his mother's sister, and she was "a younger version of my mom," he said. "Fiery, opinionated, impulsive. I was driving in downtown Concord in my first new car, a 1966 blue Volkswagen, and we were passing the Congregational Church. Jean was next to me, and I was talking with them in the back, when the news just spilled out of me. Suicide! These were people who knew my Dad when he was alive, and I just wasn't prepared for their reaction. Aunt Pat dismissed it vehemently as so much nonsense. I tried to reason with her, starting to choke with emotion. But it was useless, she was in complete denial.
"Suddenly, it all caught up with me," Chiodo remembered. His aunt's face, her voice, so much like his mother's. Feeling trapped by the past and the irrationality of the situation. Feeling small and powerless once again in the face of events he could not overcome.
"There was the frustration and anger of the moment, and the much larger sense of both shock and loss," he continued. "The honor long associated with my father's good name was all at once stolen, his memory violated. And at the same time, I began to understand in a way I never had before what my mother had gone through - not only the grief, but never sharing the truth with anyone. Not the families. Not even me. Though I was still angry at her for what had become of her life, I also started to fully realize what a hard and lonely struggle she had faced in trying to raise me alone in the years after the war.
"And I just broke down along the roadway," he said. "Tears, streaming down my face. But that wasn't me. That wasn't the normal me."
A Continuing Legacy of Military Service
As much as the emotional upheaval that Bill Chiodo experienced was uncharacteristic, it was only a surface expression of a deeper and more profound change that would take years to fully play out. For the long-festering trauma of war and combat that once enveloped his father was now in a way visiting the son and threatening to stain his very being and future course. "For a long time I couldn't talk about it, couldn't tell anyone. It was a struggle, with ups and downs. I still hold things in," he confessed with a trace of irony in his expression. "I'll never be a touchy-feely type." He smiled and paused. "But I don't have any sense of shame or embarrassment any longer, about either my father or my mother. All of it has been replaced by a sense of mission."
The wrenching roadside moment has remained a touchstone in his life. From that point forward, by trial and error, he slowly, and at times painfully, rebuilt and reshaped his idea of both his father and himself. Eventually his struggles set him on a path to learn exactly what happened to this one valiant American soldier, his true father. His "mission" would be a quest to reclaim lost honor and bestow some final peace.
Although scientific progress has provided solid research achievements and many useful insights about suicide since World War II, little is yet known about its true nature. In recent years, medical and psychological researchers have turned to probing the links and long-term impact of suicide within families and surviving relatives, but definitive findings in this area are even more difficult to pinpoint.
In 2000, the U.S. Department of Defense began to take a more enlightened approach to military suicide, and the stress that produces it, partly in recognition that it was a growing problem in peace and war. They initiated an aggressive and transparent intervention and education program for the services based on one in the Air Force that had sharply reduced acts of self-destruction. But, particularly in wartime, the services face a classic and inherent conflict in attempting to help those at risk for suicide without undermining general morale and combat readiness.
In September 2003, the U.S. Army sent a team of experts to Iraq to study cases of suspected suicide among U.S. ground troops and to examine the issue of the adequacy of counseling and intervention among the ranks there. In October, USA Today reported that at least 11 Army soldiers and three Marines had killed themselves since the beginning of combat in Iraq. By the end of the year, the reported total had risen to more than 20. The number had grown to 29 by this month, according to a story on National Public Radio March 12, which cited an Army report that now includes soldiers who had killed themselves since returning home.
The Pentagon's stepped up efforts to identify and intervene where there is evidence of a potential for suicide partly resulted in the shipment home from Iraq, for further treatment, of several hundred "medically unfit for duty" soldiers.
(A contact of Bill Chiodo's, a researcher and retired Army colonel, told him there is a list of 1,571 suicides from World War II compiled by the surgeon general after the war. It is referred to as "the suicide tapes," but for reasons not yet fully explained or understood, Savard is not on it.)
While there is little evidence to suggest that military suicide occurs at a markedly higher rate than in the general population, about 10.8 per 100,000, it remains a serious but little discussed problem. And, just as in the civilian population, stress, financial problems and separation from spouse, family and loved ones can be contributing factors. Regular exposure to combat takes it to another level. According to Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs at the Pentagon, as of January, the suicide rate for soldiers in Iraq was about 13.5 per 100,000.
The armed services also experience extraordinary death rates through accidental causes, particularly in wartime. Again, as in the civilian world, the experts strongly suspect that significant numbers of these deaths are actually suicides.
Given his father's service record, Chiodo wonders: "How do you get from one kind of man to another within just a few months?" He continued, "If the Army is right, I guess you have an answer, but no real explanation. What happened? Is this something they have ignored in terms of how to identify and treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], what they used to call battle fatigue in World War II? Has anything actually changed in 60 years? What about the men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan? Do they just cut these people loose? Or do they have ways of properly finding them and observing, and helping them until they make a transition? I just don't know."
Call Me Anything but Godfrey
"Just call me Fred," Sgt. Savard told the war correspondent when interviewed in March 1945 as the 5th Army's "G.I. of the Month." "Anything is better than Godfrey." "Goff" to the family and "Fred" to his later war buddies was born in Quebec, Canada, where the Savards lived until immigrating to the U.S. and settling in Hartford around 1920.
Bill was named after his father's father, Grandpa Bill Savard, a machinist at Colt Firearms. Fred had two brothers and two sisters. He grew to a lean and rangy 6 feet 4, graduated from Hartford High School and soon met a girl named Mill Skidd from Mount St. Joseph's Academy in West Hartford. Bill said his mother told him that during the great hurricane of 1938 Fred had walked across Hartford to her Ashley Street address through downed tree limbs and power lines just to keep a date with her. Many times, as he was growing up, Mill described Fred to her son as "the love of my life."
Fred had landed a position at Kraft Cheese and quickly became a successful area sales manager. Mill and Fred were married at the old Cathedral of St. Joseph on Farmington Avenue in 1940, when she was 20 and he, 25. (Five years later the family held a memorable memorial service there for Fred .) They were a handsome couple known for the fun they shared playing golf and cards together. Bill, their only child, was born in July 1943, and his father was drafted the following month. While training in Texas, the buck private became a U.S. citizen, while Mill and Bill moved to Pittsfield, Mass., to live with Mill's relocated parents.
The 339th Infantry Regiment is nicknamed the Polar Bears, after their service in northern Russia in the brutal winter of 1918-1919. Shortly after joining this unit as a replacement in May 1944, Fred Savard suffered a gunshot wound to the left hand. The action was part of the huge Diadem breakout from Cassino and Anzio toward Rome. In the first week in June, the Polar Bears were among the first units liberating Rome. As Chiodo pointed out, "It was a fleeting glory, eclipsed the next day by the D-Day invasion of Normandy."
The slow, punishing push against the Gothic Line, the well-entrenched German defensive positions, continued into 1945, and the action for which Savard was awarded the Silver Star came Sept. 17, 1944, near the Il Giogo and Futa passes, in closely contested mountain fighting north of Florence and below Bologna. Fred Savard's citation reads:
For gallantry in action on 17 September 1944 in (Italy). When their company had successfully taken its objective, Sergeant Savard and Private First Class Schmidt volunteered to reconnoiter the reverse slopes of the hill. Locating a hidden enemy machine gun nest in a well prepared position, they opened fire and courageously advanced in the face of heavy returning fire from the position, killing two enemy gunners and capturing eleven other German soldiers in a dugout, including a company commander and his staff. Their gallant aggressiveness and courage amidst a heavy concentration of enemy fire, eliminated the possibility of a counterattack and led to the capture of the disorganized enemy elements, reflecting great credit upon themselves and the military service.
At a regimental reunion, two 339th Polar Bears veterans separately told Chiodo the same anecdote about his father in the winter fighting of 1944-45, somewhere south of Bologna. The then-acting platoon sergeant was taking a front lines breather with his fellow infantrymen in Company A. They were in fact having an impromptu game of cards, when Savard seemed to spot some movement just over another GI's shoulder. He put down his hand of cards, and grabbing a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), stood and walked a few paces from their place of cover. Sgt. Savard shot and killed a German who had been setting up a machine gun on high ground about 75 yards above them. Then he returned, sat again and, picking up his cards, resumed the game.
Shaking his head, one of the old vets said, "He was cool."
Interviewed on the 5th Army radio station early in 1945 for the program, "We Who Fight, Speak," Savard was asked about another operation he headed to rescue wounded in a no-man's land, under potentially heavy enemy fire. He answered: "Well, maybe it did look a little like suicide to go out there, but we couldn't let those wounded boys die."
When he was recommended for a battlefield commission in March 1945, the offer of Officer Candidate School seemed attractive. Although he knew the war was rapidly winding down and he didn't want to leave Company A, he accepted the chance to become an officer. After his 90 days of training, he was able to hook up again with his old outfit, with new second lieutenant's gold bars on his uniform. Unfortunately, his reunion with the 339th lasted less than a month. He learned that the unit was being deactivated for return home. And along with his higher rank came the obligation for extended service. It was a depressing and unanticipated turn of events for Savard.
In July he was reassigned to the 405th Engineer Service Battalion, 703rd Engineer Petroleum Distribution Company, near Leghorn, Italy, on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The 703rd was responsible for maintaining and providing security for petroleum, oil and lubricant pipelines that were crucial both to the conduct of the war and the later reconstruction of war-ravaged and black-market-plagued Northern Italy. Savard was named unit supply officer, and was in charge of transferring plant and equipment to other Army units as the 703rd prepared for its own approaching deactivation. Along with his other responsibilities, the newly minted officer was put in charge of the outfit's P.X., or Post Exchange, operation, the GIs' general store.
Bill Chiodo has letters his father wrote home to his wife, Mill, from this final period in his life. While the new father shows his earnest affection for his son and wife, the letters also betray both an intense yearning for home and indications of frustration and depression over his continuing service requirements in Italy. Chiodo has estimated that his father had no more than about eight weeks to serve at this time before he would have been eligible for a return to the States. According to the testimony of several of his fellow officers, Savard grew increasingly "homesick" and "despondent." His only social outlet, except for an occasional pingpong game, seemed to be gambling at various Officers Clubs. Affidavits from these men said that he sometimes owed people money as the result of losing at craps, but that is hardly a rare occurrence in the Army.
Something Missing in His Life
Chiodo and his wife were living in Concord at the end of his service in the Air Force, where he commuted to Hanscom Field in Bedford. He had served in Vietnam at Long Van airfield near Nha Trang, which regularly came under mortar attack from the enemy, though as a cryptographic technician, Chiodo did not see combat. "My strongest memories of Vietnam are of the rotten pervasive smell, and of the oppressive heat."
Bill had flunked out of college before the service, but he found his legs and his focus in the Air Force. On release from active duty, and backed by his service technical experience, he joined Digital Equipment Corp. He went back to school and by 1971 had earned an MBA from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. The Chiodos and their three daughters moved to Windsor, where he joined an accounting training program at Ernst & Ernst in Hartford. He went on to become an investment officer for various life insurance companies and later a self-employed CPA and tax adviser.
In Windsor, the Chiodos had a crowded family and social life. Bill, in particular, became very active in local civic groups. For 16 years he served as a Windsor town councilman. Today, however, he says all these commitments ate into what could have been a much better focus on his family and personal life. "There was an aspect to it," he admitted, "that was almost feverish, as if I was running from something." After 14 years of marriage, Jean divorced him in 1979. He was suddenly alone. In many ways, Chiodo had learned from childhood to insulate himself from his emotions, anything that made him question himself. But now, it wasn't working for him. "From the earliest age," he reflected, "I had always thought of myself as on my own. No one could ever impose their will on me. That was how I got through. Yet, all throughout my adult life there was something churning on the inside."
He added that, "After the divorce, I was forced to do some deep thinking about the kind of man I was and my goals in life." Though his daughters had moved to Maine with their mother, he began to reach out to them more, and their relationships grew stronger. He also began to reconsider his father's mysterious fate. The older he got the more it haunted him. His three daughters were together with him for a holiday gathering when he first told them about their grandfather's story and his own struggles to get at the truth. They hadn't had a clue until then. They were fascinated by the tale and at the same time recognized how difficult it must have been for their dad.
While with Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., Chiodo met his future wife, Katharine "Katie" Newell. They dated for several years, and eventually married in 1989. (Since 1995, Katie has served as the clerk of probate for Windsor.)
Mill Savard's appeals to the Veterans Administration after the war always stayed in the back of her son Bill's mind. Gradually, he became more and more convinced that she had been treated unfairly. Chiodo believed that contributed to her premature death. About 1991, he took the matter up again with the VA and, as he became familiar with the details of the government's case, he recognized that it was full of holes and contradictions. By today's standards at least, the investigation into his father's death seemed shoddy and unprofessional. He had a growing conviction that a grave injustice had been inflicted on his war hero father.
Chiodo began making requests for evidentiary information and filed new appeals for reconsideration of the case to the VA and various departments of the Army.
The Army's Report of Investigation
The investigation into the circumstances of Savard's death was begun shortly after his bleeding body was discovered in his shared quarters at the headquarters of the 703rd Engineer Petroleum Distribution Company on Oct. 22, 1945, at 1720 hours (5:20 p.m). He was taken to the Army hospital in Leghorn and, several hours later, declared dead, without ever regaining full consciousness.
The only record of that investigation, and the only "evidence" Chiodo has been allowed to see is a 16-page collection of documents that the VA sent him about 1992. Among the single page entries are an index of exhibits, a report of investigation or summary form, a two-sentence conclusion from the Army's Criminal Investigation Department officers involved in the case, and a medical certificate from the autopsy examination. Also, there is a typed version of a purported three-line "suicide note," addressed to Savard's commanding officer. It reads:
Capt. Ganskopp: I have stolen the P.X. funds which we drew and have gambled tham [sic] away. I hope you will not have any trouble over it as the responsibility is all mine. This is the best way out for everybody. s/Savard
It is noted in the lower left margin to be a "true copy." Bill Chiodo has never seen the alleged handwritten original note, and the government has implied it no longer exists. In fact, the Army and VA offer little further information and explanation beyond the 16-page file. Also included in that file are four eyewitness accounts, three from fellow officers and one from a civilian. All these mostly attest to the events after the shooting, including testimony from the lieutenant who first came on the scene. Two of these eyewitnesses contradict each other, but there is no effort to reconcile their testimony or to acknowledge that there are substantial and significant differences. In fact, the version of events from Capt. Ganskopp, Savard's commander, is virtually impeached by that of Lt. Thomas Estes.
When discovered, Savard was seated in a chair, near a writing desk or table, his head thrown back, bleeding profusely from an apparent bullet wound to the head. According to Estes:
As well as I can remember, Lt. Savard's right hand was lightly holding a pistol, palm down. The pistol was resting on his lap just below the [crotch]. The left arm and hand was just over the pistol barrel. The suicide note was on the desk. There is nothing in the record about powder burns, "blowback" such as blood spray from the entry wound, or the recovery of a bullet, typical evidence that might tend to confirm the Army's theory.
The medical examiner notes on the certificate:
Wound, perforating, gunshot, of Head, severe (entrance left posterior temporal region, opening depressed and stellate measuring 7mm in diameter; exit right parietal region...) Incurred in unknown manner 22 October, 1945 at unknown place, circumstances under investigation. No biochemical tests were performed for reducing substances pertinent to alcohol or narcotics.
"They are saying that my father shot himself through the head, from behind the left ear, with a German P-38 automatic pistol borrowed from a roommate, using his left hand," Chiodo said, the blood draining from his face. "But he was right-handed. And he had received a Purple Heart after being shot in May of '44 by the enemy in his - still not completely healed - left hand. The fatal bullet exited on the right side of his head. To do it with his right hand he would have to have been a world class contortionist."
Significantly, in his one-page summary of the investigation, Army Lt. Robert J. Novak, the presiding officer, had taken pains to note: The position of the gun when the body was found has no direct bearing on [the] case, as the Medical Examiner stated the man lived for almost two hours after the shooting, and his actions and reflexes could have put the gun in almost any position.
But there is no testimony to corroborate this in the medical examiner's report, or anywhere else in the 16-page file.
Recently, in denying Chiodo's latest appeal of the original findings, an attempt to prove CUE (Clear and Unmistakable Error), since only CUE can reverse a finding, a VA judge told Chiodo and his attorney, Michael J. McAndrews of West Hartford: "Pertinent findings included that the veteran was not under the influence of intoxicants or drugs and that intoxicants or drugs were not the proximate cause of the veteran's death."
"I'm not trying to build a case that my father was intoxicated," Chiodo said. "My point is this is flat-out wrong, based on what I have seen to date, for the death certificate in the file says plainly that no tests were made for drugs or alcohol. Here we are, almost 60 years later, and they still can't get it right, or show the respect for the dead that is clearly warranted."
The Novak investigation report, on the form line pretyped "How Incurred," states, "Death self-inflicted, motivated by loss of Post Exchange Funds by gambling..." The Criminal Investigation Division finding, signed by agents Harry S. Hopkins and Amos G. Linger, said: From the foregoing evidence and testimony it is concluded that: Godfrey J. Savard ... died as a result of self-inflicted bullet wound. That Lt. Savard's action was precipitated by his having lost, by gambling, $1,163.87, P.X. funds for which he was custodian.
Incredibly, except for the broad reference in the supposed suicide note, no evidence was ever presented that the funds were in fact missing. The stated figure refers to the balance of the previous P.X. account that needed to be closed out, a figure Savard told his captain he had. "To this day, there is no record of any actual imbalance on the books, including the inspector general's final check of the unit's accounts," Chiodo said. "I know because I have made specific inquiries and gotten negative responses from multiple sources." He also has a copy of a July 15, 1946, report from the Army Effects Bureau documenting, as the VA has acknowledged, that Savard had "no debts to any creditor at the time of his death."
Rules and Regs, the Old Catch 22
To date, raising questions about the nature of the investigation and the inadequacy of the evidence has gotten Bill Chiodo nowhere. Take the following passage, for example, from a letter to the son from the VA early in 2003: Such allegations represent a disagreement with how the facts or evidence was interpreted or weighed by the adjudicator at the time of the October 1946 rating decision (original denial of benefits request). The law states that disagreement with how the evidence is weighed cannot be used to establish a valid basis for CUE (Clear and Unmistakable Error).
And again, from the same correspondence: It is a general rule that evidence that was not of record at the time of the decision in question cannot be used to determine if CUE occurred. Or, as a VA judge informed Chiodo, Oct. 22, 2003, 58 years to the day of his father's death, ...it cannot be said that (an) incomplete record is also an incorrect record. If the facts contained in the record are correct, it is not erroneous ... The appellant has in no way demonstrated that the correct law was not applied to the correct facts. ...
Chiodo did not have to be a CPA to read the bottom line in all these exchanges: "In essence we are being told that we cannot present any information that was not before the Army investigation and VA board in 1945-46, only the evidence they considered, under the then-pertinent law. At the same time, our requests for all that material, including the original suicide note, are being routinely denied or ignored." It is a script that Kafka might have authored, and one to which Joseph Heller's Yossarian could certainly relate.
Following 1945 regulations, the Army presumed that suicide would not be committed by a sane person, unless convincing evidence to the contrary was present. In 1994, the Board of Correction of Military Records, U.S. Department of the Army, wrote Chiodo: "When this presumption is overcome by a preponderance of evidence sufficient to prove misconduct, the death must be regarded as having occurred 'not in the line of duty.'" (Now, the Army does a "psychological autopsy" or profile to factor suicide.)
In any case, the VA argues that the Army presumption of insanity in suicides then is irrelevant to its own rules and regulations in 1946, "concluding that the veteran's death was the result of his own willful misconduct." The VA judge recently ventured a little further when she stated that Savard's death occurred "while he was mentally sound."
From the start, the government has used the matter of "the missing funds" to determine that Savard's death involved "willful misconduct" and was, therefore, "not in the line of duty." They also use it to defeat any argument that the death was the result of PTSD. In the view of the bureaucracy, the Army's original determination that Savard killed himself over homesickness and the shame of having his theft revealed stands.
Whether it exists or not, Chiodo continues to be stymied in all his attempts to get further information from the authorities. He was informed by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command office in 2001 that materials are routinely destroyed after 40 years, essentially telling him he began his search a little too late. But the authorities still hedge on whether further evidence or records from the investigation proceeding may remain, stored somewhere in various government archives.
It is all enough to make a level-headed person suspicious, if not paranoid, which raises still another aspect of the story. As Chiodo wrote Hartford VA official John Lankford in August 2002, "It simply never occurred to me that my father's death may have been the result of something other than suicide until I had the opportunity to review the files the Army and the VA provided me. While I do not discount PTSD, after I began to review these files, I realized there may have been others who had a motive to harm my Dad.
"The last unit to which he was assigned was a rear echelon support outfit. My own military experience in Vietnam tells me these types of units (especially dealing in petroleum products) must have had many lucrative opportunities to profit in the black market from the chaos and destruction at the end of the War in Europe. Why my Dad was assigned to this outfit is puzzling, (because he was an infantry officer, not an engineer) ...When he was in this unit, could he have seen something he shouldn't have seen, and refused to cooperate...?"
Lt. Col. Ronnie W. Long Jr., with the Army's Human Resources Command, who has spoken with Chiodo and is familiar with the Savard file, did not offer any comment on the case. Command civilian administrator Gisela Coruduff, chief personnel affairs, who conducted a "Line of Duty review" of the case, offered little more. She said privacy restrictions would not allow her to offer any direct information. She added, "All of these cases are sensitive and emotionally charged. We try to be as fair, thorough and objective as we can be." She insisted that Chiodo had all the information her office had on the case and that she was unaware of anything else in any other location.
The End of It?
Bill Chiodo has been to Italy and has worked with a researcher there. Visiting the Florence American Cemetery, where 4,400 of the fallen are buried, and standing alongside his father's grave was a deeply moving experience for Chiodo. He believes the family was right to have him buried there rather than brought home. "He was given a proper burial by an Army chaplain and treated like any of our men in most ways," the son said. "Under the circumstances, that too was unusual. My only regret there is the reference to the 703rd Engineers chiseled onto the white marble cross. Dad's heart was with Company A and the 339th Infantry, and that's what his memorial should say."
Chiodo has been supported in his quest by his wife, Katie, and his family. The grandfather of four has been accompanied by Katie and daughters Ann, Allison and Amy to 339th reunions. Chiodo is most grateful, too, for the help of the Polar Bears, who to a man seem to know exactly where he is coming from. "They are," he said, "the finest group of gentlemen I have ever met." He has also enjoyed the encouragement of other men and women whose fathers died in World War II. In the late 1990s, he joined the American WWII Orphans Network (awon.org), a mutual support organization that also promotes greater understanding of the sacrifices in the war. Chiodo was elected to their board of directors in 2002, and serves as national treasurer.
Chiodo thinks the Savard case was, for the Army, just one more minor mess in a very messy war, and they just wanted to move the matter off the books. In 1945, in Italy, no one was there to truly speak for his father or represent his interests. "I don't believe for a minute that the Army had sufficient grounds to declare my father a thief and a suicide," he said. "And they did not conduct a serious investigation into the circumstances that led to his death. I will continue to do everything I can to establish that what happened to Lt. Savard was not his fault."
As he wrote the VA in 2000, "When this matter is over and the answers to my questions have been received, I'd be the happiest fellow in the world to have someone in authority in the Army or VA apologize to me `...on behalf of a grateful nation...' while clearing the record of an honorable man. I call on the VA to be my advocate on the `inside' to unearth the evidence I need to do it. As I understand it, the VA has an affirmative obligation to do so under recent court decisions. Your motto, `...to care for him who has borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan...' will surely then be an honorable and accurate statement of fact..."