Charles “Chuck” Caldwell has talked with Civil War soldiers, fought against the Japanese in WWII, and chased mushroom clouds after atomic bomb explosions. Now ninety-two years old, he had become part of the history that he loves so much.

His story is now the focus of a fascinating new biography by The Catoctin Banner’s contributing editor James Rada, Jr. Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy takes the reader on a journey from the Civil War to the age of the atom bomb and back again as it follows Caldwell’s adventures in life.

Chuck first came to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1936 on a family vacation and then again in 1938 to attend the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg as a fourteen-year-old boy. The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was the last great reunion of Civil War Veterans. About 2,000 aged men gathered in the fields between the Peace Light Memorial and Gettysburg College. Caldwell was there to meet with as many as he could and ask them about the Civil War. To mark the occasion, he had an autograph book filled with pictures of him with the Civil War Veterans and their autographs, Civil War units, and hometowns. He even has the autographs of the men who turned out to be the last-surviving Union and Confederate Veterans.

Born in Princeton, Illinois, in 1923, Chuck spent most of his youth growing up in Orrville, Ohio. A Crimson Tide fan (still to this day), he was in his freshman year at the University of Alabama in 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He joined the Marines and was sent to Parris Island for training in January 1942.

During WWII, he served in the Pacific Theater and fought at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Guam. He received a Purple Heart for wounds he received at Guadalcanal. That is also where he contracted malaria.

At the end of the war, he married Jacqueline Murphy, a WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) he met in the hospital while recovering from a malaria attack.

After the war, Chuck went back to the University of Alabama on the G.I. Bill, and by the time he graduated in 1949, he had a job waiting for him in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The city had only been recently loosening its secret status to allow the public more access to the place where the first atom bomb was developed.

Chuck made displays and drawings for the newly formed Museum of Atomic Energy. He worked there about a year, until he was recalled to service for the Korean War. He didn’t have to fight in this war. When he returned home, he decided to switch jobs. He took a job doing technical drawings for one of the plants in Oak Ridge.

He spent the summers of 1957 and 1958 at the Nevada Test Site, setting up sensors in fake towns in the desert. When an atom bomb was detonated, he was part of the teams that would go back into those towns to try and find any of the fissionable material that they had set up for the test.

“I bet I am one of the few people still around who has actually been under an atomic explosion,” Chuck said.

In the early 1960s, Chuck became a full-time artist, sculpting miniatures for a variety of clients, including Major League baseball teams, the Franklin Mint, and the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum. Some of his miniatures were even displayed in the Knoxville World’s Fair.

Caldwell’s story is a fascinating one about an ordinary man who has been a part of so many extraordinary events in history. Rada’s narrative, based mainly on interviews with Caldwell and a review of his personal papers, captures the story perfectly.

Midwest Book Review called Rada “a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.”

Rada is the author of six historical fiction novels and nine non-fiction history books, including No North, No South…: The Grand Reunion at the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and Battlefield Angels: The Daughters of Charity Work as Civil War Nurses. He also won a first-place award for local column writing from the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association in May, 2016. The award was for his “Looking Back” column that runs monthly in the Cumberland Times-News.

Clay Soldiers retails for $19.95 and is available at local bookstores, online retailers, and his website at

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