LYNDON - 96-year-old World War II veteran, Madeline Chaffe, of East Ryegate, Vermont, is believed to be the oldest living survivor in the state from the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
At the VFW Post in Lyndon on December 7th, a group of local veterans, members of the organization, and friends, held a surprise celebration for Chaffee honoring her with a certificate of recognition on the 75th anniversary of the attacks.
The person responsible for getting her to the event was her close family friend, Sandra Young. She told Chaffe that she was going to take her out for dinner, but two days before the event, Chaffe tried to reschedule the date.
Young told us, "I had to do some heavy talking and thinking on the fly to try and convince her that she needed to be here and we needed to do this tonight."
Chaffee was a Navy parachute rigger during World War II and had just begun her tour in Pearl Harbor on December 6th 1941, the day before the attacks occurred.
Chaffee stated, "they sent me with 15 other girls, in charge of these girls, to see if we could cope with overseas activities. We had no idea it was going to be a bombing... The next morning we were having breakfast, and you've heard the rest of it."
As the attacks unfurled, Chaffee and her fellow service members didn't think it was a real attack on the base.
Chaffe explained, "Total devastation, we didn't even believe it. We thought it was an exercise as a matter of fact. But when we saw all the devastation, it's something you can't imagine unless you were there... It changes you, the service changes you, and they’ll tell you that."
Before her life changed by entering the service, she attended Boston University and afterward went on to be a high school science teacher and basketball coach. She was working at a private school teaching biology and anatomy when the war broke out.
Chaffee said that looking back is difficult but "if I could I'd do it again... I'd go back in the service in a minute."
After her five years of service spent at Pearl Harbor, Chaffe started volunteering for the Civil Air Patrol, which led to a lifelong passion for the skies and flying.
Her husband flew missions for The Civil Air Patrol and the couple even owned a plane! Later on she acquired a pilot's license of her own.
To this day, Chaffee is still a member of the Civil Air Patrol. Chaffee says her theory is, "one day at a time."