His identify was destined to be on a baseball card, however it ended up on a tombstone first.
On Saturday, a gentle layer of snow coated the departed at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Gloom loomed from the grey sky. In the 31-degree chilly, the whipping wind was incessant. And inscribed on considered one of the off-white graves, which appeared like all the others in this row, and each row, row after row, 1000’s and 1000’s of Americans who made the final sacrifice, was his identify:
It’s a reputation we should always’ve recognized.
It’s a reputation we nonetheless ought to know.
A St. Louis child, Chambers graduated from Kirkwood High School and, quickly after, signed to play in the Atlanta Braves group. In 1967, Chambers hit .325 for the Class A affiliate. In these 100 video games, he hit 12 homers and stole 28 bases. His OPS was .952.
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But that fall, he was drafted.
The subsequent summer season, he was useless.
‘Why will not anyone rise up for him?’
Every city appears to have that one child. The younger athlete who simply performed sports activities in a means your physique could not. Or anyone’s physique. He simply appeared indomitable. Invincible.
“People from Meacham Park would come over to Kirkwood Park to observe him play ball,” stated Charles Chambers, Udell’s brother. “Kids would get on their bicycles. All you’d must say was ‘Udell Chambers.’”
He used to hit homers in corkball over J. Milton Turner School. In baseball video games, he would unleash these heaves from the outfield and a few would surprise — that little man threw that? Chambers was solely 5-feet-8, 150 kilos. But he might play. And — he was simply so humble.
His mother and father, Tommie and Bettie Chambers, got here north from Mississippi and raised seven kids in Meacham Park. Some of the streets had not been paved. There had been outhouses. Bettie labored as a maid at a motel. Tommie labored at a metal firm till he was injured. Then he’d become profitable by slicing hair from his dwelling.
“With the small sum of money, we by no means noticed a hungry day,” stated Udell’s sister, Josephine. “We by no means actually knew we had been poor.”
For the 1967 minor-league season, Chambers signed for $500 per thirty days. The household nonetheless has the contract and the envelope with the Atlanta Braves brand. Udell advised Josephine his aim was to purchase his mother and father a home sometime.
At a St. Louis Bread Co. in 2021, Udell’s sister, Mardell Wise, joined two siblings and her daughter to debate Udell’s legacy.
“When he was drafted into the Army, that harm me so unhealthy. I could not work out — what is that this struggle all about anyway?” stated Mardell, who died in 2022 at the age of 80. “Why are they taking my brother? Why will not anyone rise up for him? But it was to not be. When he misplaced his life there, half of me was gone. It was a state of affairs I needed to study to beat. But he will all the time be in my coronary heart.”
No participant from Major League Baseball died in Vietnam. In reality, just one one who had performed in the majors even served in Vietnam — that was Roy Gleason from the 1963 Dodgers, per the website Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice.
Some minor leaguers did serve. Nine had been killed.
To this present day, a few of the Chambers members of the family surprise how the Army draft course of all went down. Was it simply merely the means it was? Although, there had been rumors that skilled leagues took measures to guard gamers from serving abroad. Did being Black have an effect on Udell’s trajectory?
“Looking again, it makes me surprise — issues had been completely different then,” stated his niece, Cyndi Wise. “Did he have the help? … It makes you assume. And it makes you annoyed.”
In February of 1968, he was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Battalion, seventh Field Artillery Regiment.
Chambers arrived in Vietnam throughout the Tet Offensive.
On June 21, 1968, the Atlanta Braves performed in Chambers’ hometown towards the St. Louis Cardinals.
Chambers was posted in an evening defensive place close to Da Nang. Hostile rocket fireplace hit his base. Army Pfc. Udell Chambers was killed in motion.
“I’ll always remember, we had walked to the dry cleaners,” his sister Josephine stated, her eyes welling. “We had been developing Chicago Street and the solar was so vivid. So I stated to my good friend, ‘What are these two guys going to our home for?’ And instantly, a wierd feeling came visiting me.
“We obtained nearer to the home, and the solar was happening. All of a sudden, I heard: ‘AHHHHH!’ Screaming and hollering. My mother was screaming, my dad was screaming and the man needed to make the announcement that Udell was killed in motion. We ran up the road.
“An ambulance got here. He needed to take my mom and my father to the emergency room. And the solar was down.”
The funeral was open casket.
At the First Baptist Church of Meacham Park, they could not match everybody for the service.
Udell’s belongings had been despatched to his mother and father’ home. As had been the medals earned, together with the Purple Heart.
That day at the St. Louis Bread Co., greater than half a century after he died, the household positioned the gadgets on a desk for a reporter to see.
There was a worn-down, pocket-sized Bible.
“I’m wondering,” Cyndi stated, “if it was with him when it occurred?”
To this present day, Charles Chambers can nonetheless keep in mind his associates selecting him up that day.
“Biz,” they stated, utilizing his nickname. “Let’s go for a journey.”
They advised him the information that Udell was useless.
And the subsequent yr, Charles himself was drafted.
“Apprehensive,” stated Charles. “I used to be apprehensive, seeing what my brother went by way of. And as a 19-year-old individual, leaving dwelling. And I’m going someplace, and I do not know if I’m coming again.”
Overseas serving our nation, Charles was on guard obligation one night time when he heard phrases that make him shudder to this present day:
“GI, go dwelling. We do not wish to kill you.”
“I stated to myself, I’m going to die,” he recalled. “I had solely two rounds of ammo, not realizing if I’m going to reside or die.”
Charles made it out safely.
“I’ve nightmares typically,” he stated. “A variety of time, you do not wish to give it some thought. But it is there.”
In the years after Udell died, a narrative was handed round city. Josephine could not recall who initially stated it. But apparently, there was this letter. It had been despatched to Udell in Vietnam. Someone had labored out a deal, probably somebody with the Braves, to get Udell again to America. Except the letter arrived the day after he died.
This newspaper filed a request by way of the National Archives. The search of Udell’s navy information for a letter relating to his launch was adverse.
Leaving a legacy
For Kirkwood High, Udell wore No. 19. So when his great-niece performed softball for Kirkwood, she wore No. 19
And every time Sadie Wise stepped into the batter’s field, “I’d draw the letter ‘U’ in the dust,” she stated. “It was a strategy to have his spirit with me once I was at bat.”
Sadie went on to play for St. Louis University, ending her profession this previous season. She is considered one of the finest to ever play for the Billikens. In 2020, she set the faculty file for batting common (.438). And in 2022, she made third-team All-Region.
Sadie’s father, Mike Wise, is the son of Udell’s late sister Mardell.
“My mother would love to observe Sadie play, as she did with watching Udell,” Mike Wise stated. “She would say that Sadie reminded her of Udell as a result of they might each dominate throughout the sport however had been very humble and unassuming as quickly as the sport was over.”