The Captain Stephen J. Chaney story reads like a Hollywood script, one starring the likes of John Wayne. However Steve Chaney was a real person who grew up in Marion, Ohio and was killed in action in September of 1969 on a secret mission during the Vietnam War. The Green Beret soldier was only 23. On May 3, 2013 in a ceremony at the Ohio State House, Lt Governor Mary Taylor and a host of military officials posthumously inducted Steve and nineteen other Ohioans into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame.
Chaney was born in 1946 and graduated from Marion Catholic High School in 1964. A stellar athlete he was heavily recruited by most college football powers. His father was a career army man and sharing the love of the military, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Steve would attend West Point. However, a visit to Notre Dame woke up the echoes for Steve. At South Bend he saw the traditions of his Faith combined with that of the gridiron. Upon returning to Marion his parents were stunned with his desire to attend Notre Dame.
As Steve arrived at Notre Dame in the summer of 1964 the Gulf of Tonkin Incident which sparked the United States’ heightened involvement in the conflict had just occurred. Before there was Pat Tilman (the football star who left the NFL to join the army and was killed in action in Afghanistan,) there was Steve Chaney. After one year at Notre Dame, Steve against the advice of fellow freshman and future Vietnam vet and Pittsburgh Steeler Rocky Bleier, would leave South Bend and a disappointed new Coach Ara Parseghian to enter the US Army. At that point the small anti-war movement only helped to push Chaney further toward doing what he could for the burgeoning war effort. Chaney entered the Army as an enlisted man and left as a Captain.
After one tour of duty he could have left the army, but Chaney saw the deterioration of the command structure and felt a younger leader like himself might help buttress morale. Because he led from the front, Chaney was popular with his men and the man from Marion felt he knew what it took to lead in those critical times. More than once Chaney had to pull aside a fellow officer and remind him of setting a moral example and living with what he was doing in the field, and the consequences a much Higher Power might inflict upon him at a yet undetermined date.
Chaney even confided in his parents, shortly before his second tour of Vietnam, that he secretly longed to return to Notre Dame and get back on the football team. Sadly that possibility never occurred as Captain Chaney was killed in action during a secret mission to Laos in September 1969. Caught in an ambush and a failed air assault, a critically injured Captain Chaney called in more air support all the while trying to locate all of his men. When helped arrived, he clung to life but only for a short time, he died before the helicopter landed at the nearby field hospital.