CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – D-Day veteran and American war hero, Carl D. Proffitt Jr., died June 30, 2015, at the age of 96. At his funeral, held a week later at Cherry Avenue Christian Church in Charlottesville, Va., Virginia National Guard Soldiers, family, friends and community members turned out to bid farewell to a man, nicknamed “Chubby,” who left an indelible mark on the community and the nation.
Chubby, a Charlottesville native who earned his nickname from an aunt who declared him a “cute, chubby baby,” was born Nov. 23, 1918, less than two weeks after the signing of the armistice that ended the fighting of the First World War. He enlisted in the Virginia National Guard in 1939, determined to earn some extra cash to help support his family, and, in 1941, Chubby, along with the rest of Company K of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, was federalized.
After extensive stateside training, Chubby and the rest of the men of Company K sailed to England where he played on the regimental baseball team, the Plymouth Yankees, named for a nearby town where the men were stationed. Chubby managed more home runs that anyone else on his team – 17 in 33 games – and the team went 33-0 to become the European champions.
Then it was D-Day, June 6, 1944. The Longest Day.
Chubby, a technical sergeant at the time, led his platoon from their Higgins boat onto the French soil of Omaha Beach and then through 300 yards of machine gunfire, mortars and mayhem. Chubby went back and forth across the beach, using hand and arm signals to communicate with his men in the deafening roar of war.
More than 1,000 men from his regiment lost their lives that day, but Chubby made it across the beach, unharmed, with all of his men.
For his actions on D-Day, Chubby was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, one of the highest military awards a Soldier can earn, second only to the Medal of Honor. It is awarded for gallantry and risk of life in combat against an armed enemy force.
“One of the most important things about being a leader is setting the example and inspiring individuals,” Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, Deputy Commander of the 29th Infantry Division said. “I think Chubby probably did that more than any individual I’ve ever known. He was the definition of selfless service.”
After D-Day, the fight continued. Chubby helped direct a disabled tank in destroying an enemy machine gun nest. He earned a Silver Star, the third-highest military honor for valor, after he made repeated trips across a minefield under enemy fire to provide first aid and evacuate the wounded during an attempt to reach fellow Americans surrounded by enemy forces.
Chubby was wounded three times during the war, the first time just 22 days after D-Day. When it was time for Chubby to go back to Virginia, he’d earned three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, the Distinguished Service Cross and a battlefield commission to second lieutenant.
“Chubby was a real life hero,” said Master Sgt. Scott Gibson, one of the many Virginia National Guard Soldiers who came to know Chubby over the years. “He lived and breathed the Army Values.”
After the war, Chubby came back to Charlottesville, worked his way up to general manager at the Charlottesville firm of King and Roberts, played softball and coached little league, junior league and American Legion baseball teams. Later, the city of Charlottesville named the sports complex at McIntyre Park after him and in 2012 he was awarded the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest military award, equivalent to the Medal of Honor in the United States. At a ceremony recognizing Chubby and his receipt of the French Legion of Honor, the mayor of Charlottesville declared Feb. 20 “Chubby Proffitt Day.”
“He formed a bond with the community,” explained Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Yancey, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Command Sergeant Major. Yancey explained that the Monticello Guard, formally Company A, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT, became a sort of adopted family for Chubby, with the Soldiers serving as his escorts at events, cleaning his gutters, stopping by for coffee and to hear Chubby talk about his experiences. For many of the Soldiers who have passed through the Monticello Guard or served at the Charlottesville Readiness Center, knowing Chubby has been a career highlight.
“It has been a tradition in Alpha Company for the [noncomissioned officers] in the company to educate their junior Soldiers on the history of the unit,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Hart, who formerly served at A/3-116th. “Operation Overlord and the battle that ensued on Omaha Beach is one of the proudest chapters of the unit’s history and Chubby made it living history for those who grew up in the company getting to know him.”
Staff Sgt. Travis Lamb, a supply sergeant at Company C, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th IBCT, echoed Hart’s thoughts on Chubby, saying, “Chubby was a living, breathing history book. He could remember every little detail of the stories he told and you could tell by the smile on this face when talking, he was extremely proud and honored to be able to serve his country.”
Over the years, as Chubby got older, the Virginia Guard Soldiers of Charlottesville started helping out around his house on their off time, mowing the grass, raking leaves and trimming shrubs, which allowed them even more time to spend with a man they counted as personal hero.
“For a man that has given so much to the Charlottesville community, the Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard and the American people, it would be dishonorable to not want to give back,” Lamb explained. “It was the very least we could do and we would do it a million more times given the opportunity.”
Chubby also attended countless events honoring the men of his generation, the men who fought in the Second World War. He frequented events at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., and went to the annual musters held by the 116th IBCT, always taking time to answer questions and engage with Soldiers.
“What was so intriguing about him, was his willingness to engage, especially with the younger Soldiers and to really be there for them. He was never afraid to come forward, to answer the questions and he also tried to be of help to other Soldiers,” Ortner said. “He was a great person to know and I am better in my life having known him.”
Chubby was at Fort Pickett for the dedication ceremony of the Peregory Complex, named in honor of Tech. Sgt. Frank Peregory, one of Chubby’s close friends and a Medal of Honor recipient. After the dedication, Chubby sat in the heat and talked to the Soldiers about Peregory, giving them firsthand insight into Peregory’s life and death.
“There wasn’t one Soldier in the audience that wasn’t moved by the story,” Hart said. “Chubby had talked so long in the summer heat that we had to take him over to the fire house to receive treatment for dehydration. The experience took a heavy toll on him, but he knew the Soldiers of Alpha Company truly cherished that time Chubby give them.”
At Chubby’s funeral, the Virginia National Guard Soldiers sat in the first few rows, next to their fellow veterans no longer serving in uniform, right across the aisle from Chubby’s family. They’d been directed to sit there, grouped together, at a place of honor that underscored the importance Chubby and his family placed on his relationship with these Soldiers, with the military family that used their time off to clean his gutters, mow his grass and share war stories over cups of coffee.
“I wrote Chubby a personal letter just thanking him for being such an inspiration in my life,” said Sgt. 1st Class Roger Fracker, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the infantry training battalion at the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. “The last time I saw him he told me that he read it often. It made my heart warm knowing how much it meant to him as well.”
After the funeral service, the Soldiers were the first out the door. They lined the walkway as Chubby’s remains left the church and were transported to the hearse that would take him to his final resting place at Monticello Memory Gardens.
At the final turn before entering the gardens, a massive American Flag hung over the road, suspended from a Charlottesville Fire Department ladder truck. Beneath the flag, next to the truck were four men, all saluting the procession in honor of Chubby Proffitt, the last of Charlottesville’s D-Day veterans.
Virginia National Guard Soldiers once again lined Chubby’s path as members of the Virginia National Guard’s Military Funeral Honors Program carried his flag-draped coffin from the hearse to the burial plot. Eyes straight ahead, wearing the decorations from their own military service, the Soldiers, both past and present, saluted as the coffin moved down the hill.
“He truly was a man to look up to and to strive to become like,” said Sgt. 1st Class Richard M. Goodman Jr., assigned to the 429th Brigade Support Battalion. “He really earned his place among the heroes of our nation.”
Following military honors and Masonic Rites, Chubby Proffitt was laid to rest on a little hill in Charlottesville, Va.