• Dennis McCaslin

Eureka Springs-born Marcellus Chiles won Medal of Honor in WWI


Marcellus Chiles was born on February 5, 1895, in Eureka Springs . He was the oldest of three children born to attorney John Horne Chiles and Lillian Irene Hughes. It is not known how long the family remained in Arkansas after Marcellus’s birth, but by 1900, they were living in Denver, Colorado.


Sometime after graduating from high school, Chiles enrolled at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where he was a member of the football team. During his sophomore year in 1918, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.


Soon, he was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, where he was enrolled in officer training school. Upon completing the program, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant, and then on February 18, 1918, he was promoted to first lieutenant.


In the spring of 1917, the United States officially entered World War I by declaring war upon Germany. By the next year, Chiles was transferred overseas as a member of the 356th Infantry, Eighty-ninth Division. He first saw action at Saint-Mihiel, France, in August. It was during the last major Allied offensive of the war, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, that Chiles performed his heroic feats.


Less than a week after being promoted to captain, Chiles was sent into action with his battalion on November 3. While advancing south of the French village of Le Champy-Bas, all of the battalion commanders and other officers of his unit were killed.


While the company was halted by heavy machine-gun fire, Chiles assumed command, picked up a rifle, and continued to move forward, all along encouraging the men to follow. After crossing a stream, Chiles was shot in the stomach by a German sniper. Though severely wounded, the captain refused to be removed to safety until he could relay all needed intelligence.


He was then moved to a hospital behind lines, where he died on November 5, 1918. His parents were not notified until January 24, 1919, almost three months later.


For his service, Chiles was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on January 7, 1919. After further evaluation by military authorities, he was awarded the Medal of Honor on April 15, 1919, for “conspicuous gallantry.”


His remains were never returned to the United States for burial. Instead, like many casualties of World War I, he was interred with full military honors in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial at Romagne, France.


Marcellus Holmes Chiles American Legion Post No 41 in Colorado was named in his honor. Later, the post was combined with two others, creating the Leuyden-Chiles-Wickersham Post No. 1. Chiles is also honored, along with the other Medal of Honor recipients from Arkansas, by a monument located on the state capitol grounds in Little Rock.


Chiles citation from the United States government read:


"When his battalion, of which he had just taken command, was halted by machinegun fire from the front and left flank, he picked up the rifle of a dead soldier and, calling on his men to follow led the advance across a stream, waist deep, in the face of the machinegun fire. Upon reaching the opposite bank this gallant officer was seriously wounded in the abdomen by a sniper, but before permitting himself to be evacuated he made complete arrangements for turning over his command to the next senior officer, and under the inspiration of his fearless leadership his battalion reached its objective. Capt. Chiles died shortly after reaching the hospital."


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