This account is written and contributed by Lib Chastain's niece, Myra Jones Charleston, and was first published in The Chestnut Tree.
Three volleys were fired as Myra Elizabeth (Lib) Chastain, Major, U. S. Army retired, was laid to rest on February 24, 2003. She was the first person to be buried in the Chastain Family Cemetery in 110 years. Military graveside rites were administered by VFW Post 5064 and American Legion Post 173.
Born in Shellsford, Tennessee to Miles Thomas Jr. and Myra Smoot Chastain on November 26, 1919, she was the second of eleven children. She passed away at the Alvin C. York Veterans Administration Medical Center on February 20th in Murfreesboro after a three-month battle with cancer at the age of 83. Lib took great pride in her heritage and loved the 200 year old family farm. The family burial plot next to the house dates back to 1840. “It was her wish to be cremated and then buried with her ancestors,” said Ed Chastain, her brother. “If you look at the tombstones, you’ll see that the last burial was in 1893.”
Lib began a life of service to her community and country within a year of high school graduation. After spending the summer following graduation handling correspondence from around the world for renowned photographer W. S. (Dad) Lively, she took a job with the superintendent of schools. Working for four years with Librarians Mary Myers McCullough and Mary Cunningham, she helped to create the first circulating library for rural schools. She landed a better paying job with TVA, but events of WWII led her to enlist in the Women’s Army Auxiliary (later to become the WACs) in 1942.
Talking to Lib was a history lesson in itself. She saw her first radar installation as a 1st Lieutenant in New Bedford, Massachusetts on a Coast Artillery Post. She was a captain by the time the A-Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and remembered the time well. The war was over and she spent two months at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin signing discharge papers. A big Dodgers fan, she loved the time she spent stationed at Staten Island, New York. Her two favorites were PeeWee Reese and Carl Farillo. One of her funnier stories involved the Joe Louis - Johnny Paycheck boxing match in New York. As the bell rang she dropped her program. By the time she had retrieved it, Louis had knocked out Paycheck!
In 1947 Lib was sent to Vienna, Austria as WAC Company Commander. For the most part Lib enjoyed her stay in Austria, getting to see the Lippizan horses perform, meeting royalty, visiting castles and Hitler's Eagle Roost in Burches Garten. However, there was a down side to the stay. Because of the cold war, you had to enter Vienna via a sealed train which was not opened until the Danube River was crossed and the American border reached. In those days you joked about the Cold War 'heating up', but after being transferred to Salzburg, Lib found herself in a situation that could have added fuel to the fire. the Army offered river boat trips as a part of their R&R program. Lib was duty officer on one such trip when the motor quit and the boat drifted over to the Russian side. Even though they were advised of the situation, the Russians would not allow anyone on board to make repairs. Lib and others were questioned and held overnight until it could be sorted out by their superiors.
In 1948 she was back in the states again, this time at the William Beaumont Army General Hospital in El Paso, Texas. For someone who loved sports as much as Lib, this assignment was a dream come true. She was a sports commentator for the hospital radio station, sports writer for the newspaper, played basketball, softball and bowled. Her bowling team won the Fourth Army Championship that year. She was also assistant manager and scorekeeper for the men's baseball team.
In May 1952 she found herself stationed at the U. S. Army Hospital in Sendai, Japan supervising a Japanese labor force employed by the hospital. During this time she also coached, played for and managed the Sendai Dolls softball team, which won first runner-up in the Far East Championship in 1953. She also played volleyball and her bowling team placed second in the Far East Tournament. When not busy with work or sports, Lib experimented with a new hobby - photography. In May, 1953, Lib was promoted to Major, probably the youngest female holding the position at that time. During her stay in Japan she sent each of her sisters a set of Noritake, but forgot to purchase a set for herself!
June 1954 found her stateside (at Fort Gordon, Georgia) and writing manuals for the Military Police Board. Off duty she golfed and served as secretary for the Georgia Women's International Bowling Association. After winning the 1st Army Golf Tournament (held at Fort Dix), she was sent to California to compete in the All-Army Golf Tournament.
In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower decided that the WAC was overstaffed with officers and instigated the “Reduction in Force” cutback of the WAC. Rather than accept this, she enlisted in the regular army as a sergeant and was shipped to Fort Monroe, Virginia where she found 14 generals stationed. Despite her reduced rank, she was given a job normally assigned to a major. The new assignment had problems. Outranked by her personnel and feeling that her hands were tied, she requested a transfer to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At Fort Bragg she found herself assigned the position of golf course business manager, another major's position. When she complained to one of the other sergeants that the officers using the club would be unlikely to take orders from her, he suggested that she simply wear civvies instead of her uniform. When she retired in 1963 the officers wanted to throw her an officers retirement party. She laughed and let them know that for the past several years they had been bossed around by a sergeant. Her bossing must have been successful, when she took over she had $4,000 in outdated stock. When she left there was an inventory totaling over $40,000. During the time spent at Fort Bragg, she played golf with base pro L. B. Floyd, father of pro Ray Floyd. She also played with Ray when he was around 14 years old. Winning the base golf championship sent her to the Ladies Professional Golf Association School where she earned her card as a Class A playing and teaching professional. It was also at Fort Bragg that she learned the art of ceramics.
Leaving the successful and varied military career behind her, she came back to Warren County, Tennessee with skills as an administrator, photographer, ceramicist and certification as a Class A golfer and teaching professional. She settled into civilian life by taking over administration of the family’s commercial rabbit farm as well as working as golf pro at the local country club. In 1969 she made Warren County history by becoming its first female magistrate. Asked why she ran, she replied “For several reasons, the foremost being that it bugged the life out of me that the military could not vote. Serving our country yet our greatest privilege denied to us, worse than being second-class citizens!” As the years went by, her campaign speeches became shorter and shorter. “If you like what I’m doing, vote for me, if you don’t, vote for someone else.” She retired in 1990 undefeated.
You would think that this would be enough for one lifetime, but not for Lib. She handled the accounts for the Chastain Dairy Farm, a partnership with her brother Ed. Shellsford Hard Rock Candy came into being when Lib added her own flavor mixes to an old family recipe in 1968. By the mid-70's she was taking advance orders and selling over 4,000 pounds a year in a circuit of craft shows she attended. In addition to the candy, she canned and sold vegetables from the massive garden Ed planted each year.
Her accomplishments included, but were not limited to:
Honors - too many to list but here are three:
She will be missed by her community and her family. Survivors include a brother, Edwin Chastain and sister, Billie Vivian Chastain Jones; eight nieces and nephews, nine great-nieces and nephews, several great-great-nieces and nephews and many, many friends.