“Cpl. Lewis R. Setchell: Leading his men in the Battle of the Bulge”
By Lynne Hasselman
Posted Sep. 2, 2015 at 2:00 AM
Editor’s note: This is the third installment of a series of stories about Ashland residents who lost their lives in military service during World War II. It continues on Wednesdays through Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
Cpl. Lewis R. Setchell, known as Bud, was a tall, dark-haired, lanky young man with a quiet, steadfast personality and a wide smile lit from within. A graduate of Ashland High School’s Class of 1940, he had just married his sweetheart, Lynn, and was planning to help manage his family’s 360-acre farm outside of Medford. Bud and Lynn had already picked the site for their first home on a hill overlooking it.
Instead, he was drafted into the 21st Armored Infantry Battalion, 11th Armored Division. After Bud finished training at Camp Polk, La., he and Lynn drove back to Ashland just so he could hold his newborn niece for the first — and what turned out to be the last — time. A troop train took him to Camp Kilmer, N.J., and 13 days later, he was bound for Southampton, England.
Once they landed, Bud went to Camp Upton Lovell to make final preparations. His division landed in France on Dec. 15, 1944, entered combat on Dec. 23, and crossed into Belgium six days later. By January 1945, Bud’s 11th Division had pushed back German forces six miles in five days, cleared 30 miles of rugged terrain, liberated more than a dozen towns, and ended the threat to the supply route.
The way was now paved for them to penetrate the Siegfried Line, a 390-mile defensive system heavily fortified with German bunkers and reinforced concrete blockades called Dragon’s Teeth. Mines and barbed wire were placed in the spaces between the individual teeth and laid in multiple rows with cross fire from interspersed pillboxes. Obstacles were everywhere — foxholes were filled with melting snow and mud; uniforms, boots, and equipment were wet; trench foot was rampant; and roads were slick and often frozen.
Sadly, it was here that Bud’s story came to an end. While leading his men on Feb. 22, 1945, near Eschfeld, Germany, he stepped on a landmine. Hearing its unmistakable click and fully understanding his own fate, he shouted for his men to run and he didn’t move until they were clear of the blast field. Only then did he step off, triggering the detonation that killed him in a spray of shrapnel. His body was then booby trapped to make it more difficult to collect his remains.
When his young wife, Lynn, received the terrible news, she drove straight from Southern California to Ashland to tell her in-laws in person. As soon as Bud’s father saw her coming up the driveway unannounced, he knew why she was there. When his mother was told, she climbed the hill to the site where Bud and Lynn had planned to build their home overlooking the family farm and wept.
The hole in hearts and history remains for Bud’s niece, Linda Rae Barker Monroe, and Bud’s sister, Ellen Setchell Barker Gatter. Linda has carefully preserved the tangible remembrances of her uncle’s life: the small pictures he took with him into combat of Linda as a young child and his mother and father; a photograph of his pretty wife laughing as he caught her up in his arms; his gold wedding band and burnished pocket watch, long since stopped; his favorite peanut butter cookie recipe copied in his mother’s hand; the notice of his burial site at Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery in Belgium; his posthumous Purple Heart nestled in a silk-lined box.
Bud’s final letter home to his parents in January 1945 said, “This is just a note to let you know I’m in good health and have the intention of staying that way. Don’t worry about me getting careless. People just don’t do things like that over here. Anyway, don’t worry I’m not in great danger at present. I’ve put my life in God’s hands to take or let me live as He wills, though I do pray for life if it be His will to do so.”
Bud’s death was not the first tragedy to visit the Setchell family. Their nephew and cousin from Ashland, Pvt. 1st Class Donald J. Chapman, serving with the 10th Armored Division, 20th Infantry Battalion, was killed the previous year defending the Saare River crossing at Eft, Germany. On Aug. 22, 1948, Don’s casket was disinterred from its temporary military cemetery overseas at the behest of his parents and returned on the U.S. Army Transport (USAT) Lawrence Victory, which had been painted white and wrapped with a large purple mourning band. Don’s casket was transferred from the ship in solemn ceremony and taken under military escort to a cemetery in his childhood hometown in Kansas.
On April 22, 1945, a joint memorial service for Bud and Don was held at the First Methodist Church in Ashland where they both were members. A stained glass window featuring three Army shields rendered in soft shades of gold, cream, green, and brown — one for Bud, one for Don, and one for the other infantrymen lost — was installed at the church by the Setchell Family in honor of their loved ones. It can still be viewed down a quiet, sunlit hallway in the Meditation Room.