The Port Veterans of Foreign Wars has selected John W. Chalker, a much-decorated soldier and a Port police officer as co-grand marshal of this year's Memorial Day Parade. The Chalker family has a long tradition of military service, which goes back to Chalker's grandfather, Victor Chalker, Sr. who served in the U.S. Army Infantry and saw action during the Moro Insurrection in 1914 in the Philippines. Chalker's father, Victor, Jr., joined the New York Infantry in 1937 and saw action during WWII in the Pacific. Chalker's mother Mary, and Aunt Mae, were WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services) during WWII.
John W. Chalker followed the family tradition and entered military service by joining the regular army in 1970. After three years, he joined the National Guard and was trained in the same military facility in Hempstead where his father had trained 40 years earlier. In 1990, Chalker was called to active duty and fought with the Second Armored Division in the invasion of Kuwait City. In 1999, he joined the 69th New York Infantry known as the Fighting 69th.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Chalker was mobilized to the World Trade Center after the attacks where he remained until Thanksgiving. As the country geared up for the terrorist attacks, Chalker was assigned to bodyguard the commander of all military force in Manhattan, Major General Garrett of the 42nd Infantry (Rainbow) Division.
In May 2004, Chalker was deployed to Iraq with the Fighting 69th. He was assigned to patrol the northwest section of Baghdad as a machine gunner atop a Humvee. While on patrol a bomb exploded under his Humvee. Chalker was saved from the full force of the explosion by the panels of a bulletproof vest donated by the New York Police Department, which were mounted beneath the vehicle. As a result, he was awarded the Purple Heart.
Chalker celebrated his 52nd birthday in Camp Black Jack's in Baghdad where he had a long distance conversation with his father, a WWII veteran, about the similarities of the Iraq War and WWII. Suicide bombers of today were compared with the Japanese kamikaze pilots of WWII. Chalker mentioned that there had been 12 car bombings that day. His dad playfully said to disregard them, that they were only a way the Iraqis celebrate your birthday.
In Iraq, he escorted New York newsman, Geraldo Rivera, who was covering a story on the election results at police headquarters in the village of Sabeaa-al-boor. When mortar fire erupted nearby, Rivera eagerly assisted Chalker by passing ammunition up to his roof-mounted machine gun. Chalker's military record to date includes 19 federal, six New York State and awards from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The Fighting 69th that consisted of approximately 800 men, suffered 19 deaths and over 90 wounded before their yearlong tour in Iraq was completed.
On the advice of his brother Wayne, Chalker joined the Port Washington Police Department in April 1981 and left a career with the New York City subways where he worked as a road car inspector. His first assignment was a foot patrol post on Main Street. In the early 1990s, he rescued a woman trapped in a car that had skidded on Shore Road during a rainstorm. Chalker, whose own radio car was disabled due to the storm, commandeered a passing tractor-trailer and directed the driver to pull alongside the woman's car. Once alongside, Chalker pulled the woman to safety through the side window as her vehicle sank farther and farther on the storm-soaked roadway.
Chalker has seen many changes in Port since joining the police department. The brawls of youngsters once eligible to purchase alcoholic beverages at 18 and the topless bars are gone. Technology over the past two decades has brought improved communications equipment and computers to a department whose sworn personnel has nearly doubled. The three police chiefs under whom he served have turned the Port PD into one of the premier departments in New York State.
Chalker's fondness for police work has inspired him to acquire a conversational street language to deal more effectively with Port's diverse population. He spoke emotionally of firm support he received from the Port's police and residents during his time in Iraq. He has a profound appreciation of those in Port who forwarded letters, magazines and various other items to him in Iraq and points out that this outpouring of support came during his entire time in Iraq not just around Memorial Day.
Chalker is a member of Port's VFW post. He is a first sergeant and actively participates in parades and community events. He has been a Port resident for over ten years where he enjoys fishing from the town dock. Chalker values the long genealogical history of his family, which emigrated from England in the middle of the 17th century and settled on the north shore of eastern Long Island. The family trade included stonecutters who, in the mid-1800s settled on the south shore around what is now the Village of Freeport.
In a recent conversation with Congressman Peter King about his service, he was asked by King how he felt about being in combat in Iraq as well as an active police officer at an age many would consider more appropriate for a younger man. Chalker said he was proud of his efforts to remain physically and emotionally fit to "do the job and protect the flock."