Reginald Bryan Chastain, Jr.
Reginald Bryan Chastain, Jr., United States Foreign Service Officer of 27 years, passed away on Thursday, July 19, 2012 in Jefferson. He was 75.
The oldest of three children, Bryan Chastain, born in Miami, Fla., on Oct. 28, 1936, was preceded in death by his parents, Reginald Bryan Chastain, Sr. and Judge Dixie Herlong Chastain.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Joann Platt Chastain, and daughters, Deborah L. Chastain of Tucson, Ariz., and Jodie Chastain Copeland of Crumpler. He is also survived by granddaughters, Hannah L. Copeland, Fleetwood, and Eleanor L. Copeland, Crumpler.
Mr. Chastain was educated at Miami Senior High School, Florida State University, Stetson University College of Law and earned a teaching certification at Appalachian State Teacher’s College.
In 1967, he began his career as a Foreign Service Officer working for the United States Agency for International Development in Vietnam, first in Tuy Hoa, Phu Yen Province then in Dalat, Tuyen Duc Province. He completed his tour of duty in Vietnam in Nha Trang, Khan Hoa Province working for the United States Department of State as Administrative Officer, Office of Plans and Evaluation. During this time he worked under the command of John Paul Vann, known as the “Lawrence of Arabia of Vietnam.” Under Vann, the first American civilian to command US regular troops in combat, Mr. Chastain was responsible for “out-processing” military personnel working with the II Corps Combat Tactic Zone.
During one particularly memorable mission, Mr. Chastain volunteered to fly in the right seat of an A-37 VN attack bomber to provide photographic proof of the presence of enemy armor in South Vietnam, where none had been seen before. Mr. Chastain’s photographic evidence vindicated Vann’s claim of such a presence for which he had received much ridicule. While all of the still photographs taken by Mr. Chastain would be the property of the government, he realized the magnitude of the adventure he was embarking upon so he took along his parents’ 1947, 8mm Kodak movie camera. When he later reviewed the movie footage, he realized that what he thought were scratches on the viewfinder were actually gunfire tracers aimed at the plane in which he was flying!
After the Battle of Kontum, John Paul Vann died in a helicopter crash flying from Pleiku to Kontum; Mr. Chastain was dispatched to the crash site and the storage yard location of the wreckage. He stated that there was no evidence of enemy action and that the crash was caused by bad weather.
Mr. Chastain also conducted the reconnaissance of areas of heavy combat to recover the human remains of American soldiers and document the last known locations of soldiers reported missing in action.
After Vietnam, he continued his career as either Administrative Officer or General Service Officer for the United States Department of State in Zaire, Niger, Botswana, Bangladesh, Kenya and, finally, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, People’s Republic of China. While in Chengdu he was instrumental in the construction and completion of the U.S. Consulate Compound. He was recently remembered by a former employee as, “…Our good leader, instructor, colleague and friend.”
Everywhere Mr. Chastain worked his natural ability to quickly pick up on the local languages and dialects coupled with his sincere interest in the lives of the local people meant he was known as a man who was well-liked by locals and someone with whom they became comfortable.
While Mr. Chastain was never in the military, his dedication to his work (often volunteering for very hazardous duty in active war zones) should be appreciated and acknowledged. Throughout his life he was deeply affected by his experiences in Vietnam. As with all those who served in Vietnam, Mr. Chastain’s service to this country will never receive the appreciation it deserves.
Throughout his career, Mr. Chastain remained a devoted husband and father. Often his assigned posts would separate him from his wife and children. Regardless of where he was stationed, he worked to secure nearby safe housing and education for his family. As a result, his wife and children had first-hand experiences of war zones and opportunities to learn from many fascinating cultures.
In 1994, Mr. Chastain and his wife retired to their home in Blowing Rock. He was a doting grandfather, supportive father, and remained always, the loving husband of his wife, Joann. He enjoyed trout fishing, deer hunting, bird-watching and wildlife photography. Having traveled much of the world together, he and his wife spent the last 10 years annually embarking on long camping trips and extensive cross-county exploration of the United States. He was a published wildlife photographer and respected genealogist.
The family service will be private. Austin & Barnes Funeral Home & Crematory will be in charge of the arrangements. The family extends its appreciation to Andy Feimster, Billy Lawrence and Bradley Moretz.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the New River Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad, 6067 NC Highway 16 N, Crumpler, NC 28617.