In 1943, 19-year-old Raymond Carlyle Blanton of Richmond became a soldier. He served as a staff sergeant with the Army in Company C of the 60th Infantry and 9th Infantry Division. In October 1944, he was killed in Germany. On June 25, 2021, he returned home.
Seeing the Gold Star ring made Ruby Blanton’s eyes tear up. Her son-in-law Anthony Chimento had it refashioned from the pin honoring her son Carlyle’s ultimate sacrifice in World War II. The ring and a military portrait were all Ruby had to remember him.
Staff Sgt. Raymond Carlyle Blanton was awarded a Bronze Star for the bravery and courage he showed on the day he was killed in Hurtgen Forest in mid-October 1944. The protracted battle, lasting 59 days, raged on over 50 square miles near the Belgian-German border. His remains could not be recovered because of the enemy’s presence and mine fields in the area.
Carlyle, as his family called him, was named after Ruby’s brother Raymond Carlyle Hall, who served as an Army sergeant during World War I. He was the seventh of Ruby and George Blanton’s eight children, six of whom were daughters.
At age 16, Carlyle quit school to help support the family. From their Fan home on West Main Street, he pedaled to the former State Fairgrounds on Laburnum Avenue. His job was to change the oil for military vehicles at the Virginia Reserve Militia.
Family stories reveal a humorous side to Carlyle, who was a known prankster. While wearing a pin shaped like a traffic light, he would turn on the “green light” when he saw a girl he liked.
One day while walking around the fountain in Byrd Park, Carlyle met a girl who would be his steady “green light.” He and Jeanne Murphy spent time together horseback riding and attending St. Benedict Catholic Church. On nights when Carlyle met Jeanne, his younger sister Shirley helped her favorite brother get back in the house by cracking the front porch window open. Shirley would later marry Anthony Chimento, who had the Gold Star ring made for her mother.
In 1943, 19-year-old Carlyle became a soldier. While being processed at the fairgrounds, he heard guys talking about using soap under their arms to avoid service. It was thought that Oxydol under the armpits would cause an incorrect blood pressure reading and reject one from military service. Carlyle told family members that he wanted to serve and would not follow this practice.
While training with the Rainbow Division at Camp Gruber in Oklahoma, he wrote his older brother George Jr., who was also serving in the Army. Reminiscing about how they fought all the time as kids, he wrote “… now that we are both fighting together I know that this war can’t last much longer. How about that?”
On the ship over to England in August 1944, Carlyle converted to Catholicism. His sister Shirley understood that he and Jeanne planned to get married in St. Benedict Catholic Church upon his return. In a letter from “somewhere in England,” Carlyle told his parents that he did not get sick on the voyage like many other soldiers had. He also assured them they were getting plenty of food.
Carlyle was assigned to Company C of the 60th Infantry and 9th Infantry Division. “We have been moved around so much … so fast I can hardly keep up with myself,” he wrote his parents in a letter dated Oct. 5, 1944. “I am somewhere in Germany now. I got to see Paris on my way here and it is really some place.”
“I hope you haven’t been worried about me not writing,” wrote Carlyle. “It’s just like I told you before it’s not that I don’t want to write it’s just that you don’t get a chance to write as often as you would like.”
“Well mom, that’s about all for the time but will write again soon and you do the same. Tell everybody hello from me and Kiss all the babbies for me.”
He signed it: “With Lots & Lots of Love to all. Carlyle
“P.S. Mom, don’t worry about me I am O.K.”
This was the last letter Ruby and George received from their son.
The Battle of Hurtgen Forest began on Sept. 19. The primary mission was to divert Germans from reinforcing the westernmost German city of Aachen, which the Allies had under siege to the north. A secondary mission was to clear the forest of entrenched Germans so the Allies could break through the Siegfried Line to reach the Rhine River and advance into Germany.
On Oct. 13, Company C’s mission was to destroy two enemy pillboxes, concrete defensive positions, in the Raffelsbrand Forest sector of the Hurtgen Forest. Pillboxes formed a long line of defense for the Germans in the dense woods. After taking the first pillbox, Company C continued on through heavy machine gun crossfire to take the second. However, without heavy weaponry it was unable to crack it open.
The next day Company C was planning a second assault of the pillbox when the Germans laid a heavy artillery barrage into the area, creating a deadly shower of timber missiles through the air. The Americans pulled back, sustaining many casualties.
Carlyle and members of his squad, Pfc. Clarence W. Brotherton, Pfc. Leslie E. Shankles and Pvt. Walter H. Reuter Jr., were four of the 33 men counted as missing.
Around the same time back in Richmond, Shirley had a premonition of Carlyle’s death. Later she recounted the moment to her daughter Nancy Chimento Fraker. Carlyle appeared to her while she was sweeping the floor at home. He told Shirley that he had to go now and that he loved her. Afterward Shirley suffered from “nerves” and stayed home from school.
On Nov. 16, 1944, Ruby wrote her son:
I still haven’t heard anything else since I got that telegram Sunday saying you were missing, but I am not giving up hope. Mil opened the Bible yesterday to put your picture in that was in the paper Monday and the first thing her eyes fell on were the words ‘our son liveth,’ John 4th Chapter 48th verse through the end of the chapter and as long as I have that promise I won’t give up hope.”
Jeanne Murphy, who attended Nazareth College and Academy in Kentucky, wrote to assure Ruby and probably herself:
“I’m going to Mass and Holy Communion in the mornings until the Blessed Mother answers my petition and sends word that Carlyle is safe. You know there are nine chances out of ten that he is a prisoner of war. I generally get what I ask for from Our Lord & his mother, and I’m positive they won’t let me down this time.”
More than seven years after Carlyle was listed as killed in action, Ruby and George learned that their son’s remains could not be found.
“Realizing the extent of your great loss, it is regretted that there is no grave at which to pay homage,” Col. James. B. Clearwater wrote to them. “May the knowledge of your son’s honorable service to his country be a source of sustaining comfort to you.”
As a 6-year-old, Shirley’s daughter Nancy Chimento Fraker vividly remembers the emotions his loss evoked when her father gave her grandmother the Gold Star ring. Living in New York at the time, she and her sister Marilyn watched and learned about their Uncle Carlyle.
The Virginia War Memorial was the Chimentos’ first stop on visits to Richmond. The next stop was to find his name on the memorial at Richmond Memorial Hospital, which once stood at 1300 Westwood Ave. The hospital has since closed, but the wall has been relocated to the Memorial Gardens and WWII Memorial Wall at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center.
After Anthony died, the Chimentos moved to Richmond where Ruby lived with them to help out. Carlyle’s smiling portrait hung above Ruby’s bed. After she passed away, the portrait was passed down to each of the daughters from the eldest to the youngest until Shirley Chimento was the only surviving sibling.
As Carlyle’s portrait hung on her mother’s wall, his eyes peered at Nancy. They seemed to beckon her to find him, she said. Sixty-one years after her uncle was killed, Nancy resolved to find out what had happened to him and bring him home.
After Action Reports revealed the movements of the 9th Division and the Morning Reports listed 18 men missing in action, four of whom belonged to C Company — including Carlyle. Nancy obtained an Individual Deceased Personnel File for all 18 men. From these IDPF’s, she found associations with records for unidentified remains buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial.
On a visit to the 1944 Hurtgen Forest Museum, she met its director, Manfred Klinkenberg, who took her to a round 3-foot high stone monument. It was built to honor Walter Reuter after his dog tags were found nearby. Reuter was in Carlyle’s company and his remains also were missing.
Believing that she had found the location where Carlyle had died, Nancy phoned her mother back in Virginia to share the news.
The information Nancy collected along with historic accounts gathered by Yuri Becker, the official researcher for the Ninth Infantry Division Association, and Klinkenberg, helped cement the location Carlyle died and the connection with associated unidentified remains. There was now enough information for the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to open Carlyle’s case.
Reuter’s ID tags, mitochondrial DNA from Shirley and Nancy, which matched Carlyle’s, dental records and Carlyle’s physical features all confirmed that Carlyle’s remains had been found. Sixteen years after Nancy began her quest to find her uncle, he arrived home on June 25.
Carlyle’s seven siblings did not live to welcome him home, but about two dozen of their descendants came to Richmond International Airport. His nieces, a nephew, great-nieces, great-nephews and a great-great-nephew watched from inside the airport as the plane carrying Carlyle’s casket taxied to the gate.
Water sprayed from two airport fire and rescue trucks formed an arch over the plane to honor him. An Army military funeral honors team from Fort Lee carried his flag-draped coffin to the hearse, bearing the U.S. Army Seal on each side.
Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield law enforcement officers and Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles led the procession to Bliley’s Funeral Home.
On July 1, a funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Benedict Catholic Church to honor their heroic uncle. A graveside service followed in Maury Cemetery.
“My mother talked about him my whole life,” said Carlyle’s niece Marilyn Chimento after the service. “It was very important to bring Carlyle home to fulfill all the sisters’ and brother’s wishes, and his parents’. And now he is finally home.”
After being missing for 76 years, Carlyle has returned to Richmond and now rests beside his parents.