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Oral Histories and Memoirs

Chet Buttery as young soldierChester W. Buttery, Jr.

Interview conducted by Ronald Marcus & Stuart Webster in 2004


This transcript is the product of a recorded interview with Chester (Chet) Buttery regarding his experiences in WWII. Chet Buttery kindly gave the Society access to his papers, which include his war letters as transcribed by his grandfather, and three scrapbooks/photo albums. Society volunteer Stuart Webster and Librarian Ron Marcus conducted an extenvise oral history interview, now existing both as the transcript below and as sound file.

Stuart Webster scanned the materials and created a CD containing all letters and album images in PDF format, as well as the sound file of the interview.

By the time the interview took place, Ron and Stuart were familiar with the letters and the photo albums.

The CD has been incorporated into the Society's 2006 exhibit Pride and Patriotism: Stamford's Role in WWII. The CD may be viewed/listened to on the Society’s library computer on request.

Before moving to Florida, Chet Buttery was an active volunteer at the Society and in 2000 received the Virginia T. Davis, Stamford Historical Society Distinguished Service Award.

© Stamford Historical Society

This transcript may be read, quoted, and cited by students and scholars. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by any means, without permission in writing from the Executive Director of the Stamford Historical Society, 1508 High Ridge Road, Stamford, Connecticut 06903.

Ron: We’re delighted to be interviewing Chester W Buttery Jr. at the Stamford Historical Society Library. Chet is here with his granddaughter Christie Buttery, and Stuart Webster is assisting in technology, playing an important part in this, and to those of you, if it matters any, my name is Ron Marcus. Chet very graciously allowed us to borrow a collection of letters that he wrote back to his mother and father and his brother and his grandfather during WWII. He allowed us to Xerox them, and what’s unusual about them is that unknown to Chet at the time, his grandfather was borrowing them from his mother and his father and his brother, and making verbatim typed transcripts of them, as well as letters sent to his grandfather. He presented them back to him when he returned from the war. He has just presented them to his granddaughter Christie, and Christie you have a wonderful legacy there. Take good care of them. Not everyone receives something like that. Trust me, I’ve seen a lot of letters, and they’re quite unusual. Now Chet, you said you don’t know why we are making such fuss out of this, you weren’t a general, you were a Joe private and so on. I have said to you and Stuart, and to individuals doing research here, that one of the best commentaries I ever read on the American Revolution was written by a private. They were his recollections that must have been based on a diary, now lost. He went up to Maine, to live with a son who had a newspaper. His son published these memoirs verbatim, exactly as they were written. He didn’t change the grammar, the spelling or anything, and they are a legacy. We have but a few documents written by Stamford participants in the American Revolution. Documents, but not letters. We do have a series of letters written from soldiers during the American Civil War. People just recently had an opportunity to see them. We had an exhibit on the Civil war, and they would remark about these wonderful manuscripts. Exhibit letters from individuals in WWI and people say oh that’s nice and so on. Right away the interest diminishes. Letters from people in WWII, that’s nice, but in the long run, they’re going to be just as valuable as those who served in 1776. And that’s why I’m very very grateful for your participation in this. Did you know? You really didn’t know your grandfather was doing this?
Chet: I had no idea. He gave me the three books when I got home after the war was over.
Ron: So as you were writing, you had no idea that he was gathering…
Chet: Just writing letters home, that’s all.
Ron: Amazing.
Chet: Of course you didn’t get the letters I sent to my girlfriend.
Ron: Well, that’s a little different. Now one of my questions was that the, and you answered me, but just for the record, that the Peg who you were writing/referring to in the letters, that was the girl that you married, right?
Chet: Right. Her name was Peggy Aitkens. She lived up in Belltown. Scottish.
Ron: Its almost the same spelling as the Catherine Aiken School.
Chet: She was a school chum. She wanted to get married before I joined the service, but I knew I would be going overseas, so I waited until we got home, then we got married, after I got out.
Ron: That was a very good idea. Did you have any thoughts about, was it a hard decision to make? You were young obviously, young and in love.
Chet: Just out of high school. Of course, back then, everybody wanted to sign up to be in the service, but my father wouldn’t let me. He wouldn’t sigh for me before I finished high school. He said you finish high school, and then we’ll talk about it. After I graduated high school in ’44, I didn’t go in until later on. He let me go down to the recruiting station in New York to find out what it was all about. When I came home, he asked me how I made out. I said good, I’m all sworn in. [laughter] So then I did it, it wasn’t about a month until I went down to Paris Island, boot camp.
Ron: One of the things that intrigued me about the letters was that, despite the fact that mail was censored, and you were all told they were being censored, right?
Chet: Right.
Ron: What were you told about censorship?
Chet: Don’t write anything that concerns the actual location, or duties, or, you know, outfit or anything like that, because everything was fleet post office in San Francisco, and then they would send it onto us, wherever we were.
Ron: So when you wrote the letters, they were unsealed?
Chet: You never sealed the letter. You gave it to the lieutenant. I think he was the one who censored it. Anything that would be detrimental, they would just take the razorblade and cut it out.
Ron: But, to spite this, you figured out a little code to inform your family where you were, would you mind telling us a little bit about this, this mythological fellow who you were always running into?
Chet: Before I went in, I figured I’d be over in the Pacific someplace, so I got a map out, and I wrote down a list of all the islands that I could find in the Pacific. I put a person’s name behind each one, so that when we went over, as we left pearl harbor, we landed on Guam, and that was our first stop. I wrote home that, oh I met George Malcolm the other day and we went over some old times about school and everything, had a great time together. There was no such person, naturally. They looked it up and found out that I was on Guam. Then, after a while, we left Guam and we went to Saipan. It’s a good thing that we didn’t change too many islands out there, because they would have gotten wise to me after a while.
Ron: I’m sure. Stuart, do you have any questions.
Stuart: Was the training hard?
Chet: It was tough. It was not like it is today. Today, the drill instructors, they can’t touch the recruits down there, but they used to bang us around a lot.
Stuart: They hit you?
Chet: It was good training. I actually put on weight and got up to what I should have been. Of course, we were out doing calisthenics before daylight. Everywhere you went, mess hall or whatever, you always ran, you never walked. We had rifle drill every day, twice a day for hours out on the drill field. We had one fellow, he was kind of a hillbilly. He never had a pair of shoes on him his whole life, until he got in the marine corps, he couldn’t get straight his left foot from his right foot, the DI would come over and stomp on one foot and say “that’s your right foot”. They had little tricks. We used to line up to get our shots, and while we lined up, there would be a doctor on each side of you. You would get at least one in each arm, or two in each arm, at the same time. Then they would give you a little short rub on the arm to move it round a little bit, and then they’d take you out on the drill field and you’d go through a rifle drill for a few hours. The rifle, when you carried it on your shoulder, was supposed to be straight. If you cocked the rifle inward or outward a little bit, they were very displeased, and they would come over and bang it against your head. They actually drew blood a lot of times. This was part of the exercises and the training you went through. It was tough, but after you got into the swing of it, it really wasn’t that bad. It sure as heck toughened you up. I never felt any better in all of my life after I got out of boot camp.
Stuart: Were you homesick during boot camp?
Chet: No, I wasn’t because before I went in I was in the Boy Scouts and I would go off to boy scout camp in the summer and a lot of times I was away from home, so I wasn’t really homesick. Of course, I knew what I was getting into. Everybody back then was really patriotic, you really wanted to jump into the fray, and that was it. They kept us so busy we didn’t really have time to be homesick.
Ron: Were you in the CCC, the civilian conservation corps, before?
Chet: No, I was in boy scouts for quite a while.
Stuart: How long was boot camp? How long was the preparation?
Chet: It was a minimum of eight weeks, two or three months. I can’t remember. When we were in boot camp, we couldn’t even wear the marine emblem on our fatigues because we weren’t marines, we were just the lowest class of life on earth at the time, the names of which I will omit. After our final parade ground parade, when we got out of boot camp, then they issued us the collar medals and the medals for our pack with the globe, anchor, and eagle. Then we were considered in the marine corps. Then we went up to Camp Lejeune. We stayed there for a couple of days. Then they gave us ten days leave. Ten days from the time we got out of there to the time we got back. After that, the troop train went over to san Diego, more training there, then we went overseas.
Ron: One of the things from boot camp which was just amazing was how you were literally just throwing blocks of TNT. Why blocks of TNT? Why not grenades?
Chet: They were about one pound, about two inches long and four inches square, and had a fuse in it. We were around the rim of a little valley, and they had little dugouts there, and you get in one of the dugouts, and the drill instructor would get along side of you just in case you didn’t do it right, just so you wouldn’t blow yourself up. You would light the fuse, and he would make you hold it for a few seconds, he knew how long the fuse would go. So you held it for a few seconds, trembling all the time, and then you just heaved it down into the ravine, ducked down, and let it go.
Stuart: Was anybody ever killed by that?
Chet: Not that I ever knew of. They can’t do a lot of that stuff anymore. They can’t touch the guys now. Like I said they used to kick us around a bit.
Ron: When they transported you, I found it very interesting that, they don’t do this anymore of course, today when they move troops en masse they load them into cargo plains, these massive plains where they can put tanks in. But in those days, they moved you across the US in a troop transport train.
Chet: There were troop trains like a freight train, with a few sleeper cars in them. I know I was on mess duty when we went across the Rockies and I remember sitting there. It was like a freight car, with the big doors wide open you could look out at the beautiful scenery, and I was sitting there peeling potatoes while we were crossing the Rockies.
Ron: One thing in the letters that I can’t quite understand: do you have any ideas how many cars were involved in this train, or how long was the train? Do you have any idea?
Chet: Probably 15 to 20 cars, at least. When we went overseas, the ship we were on, I think it was general Mayan if I’m not mistaken, there were 5000 of us on it. We left Camp Pendleton, there were these big tractor-trailer trucks with us backwards like cattle. We called them cattle trucks. You just stood there, packed in, and drove down to San Diego, went on the docks, and went aboard the ship and then off you went.
Stuart: Was there an atmosphere of camaraderie during boot camp?
Chet: In boot camp, yes. Well, all through, they say once a marine always a marine. Even today, you see the hat I have on, it has a marine corps emblem on it. I wear this quite a bit, and when I’m walking through town or through the store or anything somebody behind you would say semper fi. That was more or less a greeting that everybody used. Still today it’s used. If I see somebody with a marine emblem on a hat or something like that, I’ll just say semper fi. There was great camaraderie, there still is.
Stuart: You make reference to the time, on the ship, there was a party that happened when you crossed the date line.
Chet: I don’t know if you would call it a party. It was a ceremony more or less. We got little cards that they printed up that we had crossed the dateline. One of the sailors dressed up as king Neptune, he had the spears and all this stuff. It was a big to-do. It was sort of an initiation thing, I can’t really remember exactly what happened, but I know it was more of a ceremonial affair than a party.
Stuart: How were you paid? How much did you make?
Chet: Eighteen dollars a month, but I had money taken out for war bonds, what they would do every month, they would send an eighteen dollar war bond home to my parents. What was left, I got. Of course, you didn’t really need money those days except to play poker. That was a great thing, the card games and gambling. We had nothing else to do.
Stuart: Did you do a lot of gambling?
Chet: Not really. It only happened around payday. When all the money got down to a couple of guys, that was it, you stopped playing because you didn’t have any money. We had one fellow in our outfit, he was a dealer out in Las Vegas, and he refused to play cards with anybody for money, but he was fantastic. He would sit around there and ask you what kind of a hand you want, and he’d shuffle them up and deal them, and you’d have the cards you wanted. I never saw anything like it, he was so swift a hand you couldn’t see what he was doing, but at least he never got into the game, just showed us a lot of things.
Stuart: Did you have a lot of free time?
Chet: Not in the states, no. But when we got overseas we had a lot of free time. Usually, in the states, it was Sunday afternoon was the only time we had. They would allow you to go to the PX and buy cigarettes or shaving cream.
Stuart: What does PX stand for?
Chet: Public exchange. It’s a store. At boot camp, you never got to go to the store. Once in a while, a guy would slip out and dash over and get some ice cream or something. It would come in little containers. If the DI caught him, he would have to stand out in the hot sun at attention with the ice cream sitting on top of his head until it all melted and ran down. That was his punishment for doing what he wasn’t supposed to. But they were great for those little trips.
Stuart: Overseas, did you have a lot of spare time?
Chet: We had a lot of free time. We still had rifle inspection when we got overseas. That rifle was your life and death. It was your buddy all of the time. You kept it with you and you had to keep it clean. They blindfold you have to detail strip, they call it. Take every little nut and bolt off of the thing and put it in a pile, and then put the rifle back together again blindfolded.
Stuart: Was that hard?
Chet: Yes, but you got to know it pretty well.
Stuart: What did you do to pass the time overseas?
Chet: Nothing. When I was on Saipan, our battalion had charge of the prisoner of war stockade. It was up on Mount Taopachow, they moved the stockade down along the beach area. The Jap prisoners, we would take them down in working parties and they would dig the postholes. We had double barbed wire fence and the watch towers on each corner. We had a big problem when the Japanese started jiber-jabbering and they quit work and we had a heck of a time until we found out they were digging up the bodies of the Japanese that were killed in the invasion. What they did after the invasion is that they had bulldozers come along and dig these massive, big holes and they put all the Japanese in there that were killed. They finally got that straightened out.
Stuart: Did you see any combat?
Chet: No, like I said, my father wouldn’t let me go in until I graduated high school. I graduated in ’44, and all the invasions were over at that time. I didn’t go in until the end of the war. I wound up in the combat MP battalion. The military police battalion and we found out that we were supposed to go in and hit the mainland of Japan. They started making up these MP battalions. I was in the 5th MP Battalion. They were supposed to put the police battalions in the mainland of Japan to set up the beach and direct traffic and everything when the first wave came in. We found out after that they figured that the first three waves would have been completely annihilated during the invasion of Japan.
Stuart: How many people would have been in each wave?
Chet: Thank goodness for Harry Truman and his famous words “drop the bomb”. It was a terrible thing, but he saved thousands and thousands of American lives by doing it.
Stuart: How many people would have been in each wave?
Chet: Oh, I don’t know. There were divisions where they would go in, like somebody would have red beach, and it would be a few hundred yards wide. Most of the second division would go in an area, the first division would go in another area. You couldn’t tell. Like I said, I never got into one of the invasions.
Stuart: Do you know how many people were in your battalion?
Chet: My battalion was 500. We wound up doing guard duty on the prisoner of war stockade on Saipan.
Stuart: Is that where the chopsticks came from?
Chet: I gave my granddaughter a set of chopsticks. The Jap prisoners had nothing to do, and so they got into all these different things. One fellow, he made a little box and a pair of chopsticks out of scrap wood and he painted it up and everything and he gave it to me, and now my granddaughter’s got it.
Stuart: Why did he give it to you?
Chet: I asked for it. They had no reason to keep that stuff. He had his own chopsticks to eat with. I never mastered the use of them. I couldn’t.
Stuart: Were they friends with you?
Chet: We were sort of friendly with the prisoners. I had what they called a number 1 boy. I took out a party of seven or eight guys, prisoners, I’d have one that could speak English. My number one boy was only fourteen years old when he went in the army. He begged me to take him back to the states, that he would be my number one boy for the rest of his life. Naturally, I couldn’t do that.
Stuart: What happened to the prisoners after the war?
Chet: We put them on board a ship and sent them back to Japan. We had one little guy, he was not really insane but he wasn’t playing with all his marbles. He would escape every once in a while. We would be up in the watchtowers every once in a while, there were watchtowers in the corners of the blockade and we had fifty-caliber machine guns there. It was a wonder this kid didn’t get killed. We’d see him come down during the night. He’d come out and he’d slip through the first barb-wired fence, and then it was ten feet and then it was another barbed-wire fence. So he’d slip through the second one and off he’d go into the boondocks. Whenever we saw him, we’d ring up and get the corporal of the guard and tell them Tojo just left again. They’d get a jeep and a couple of guys and go down to the peers and he was just going down and looking for a ship to take him to Japan. He was a little mental case. They’d sit there and wait and sure enough he’d come out of the boondocks and they’d bring him back and put him in the stockade again. He did that four or five times. It’s a wonder someone didn’t shoot him.
Stuart: Were the officers ever mutinous [ the Japanese]?
Chet: They had a special section. They were treated like God almighty. They were superior, much superior.
Stuart: They were treated like that by you or by the other prisoners?
Chet: By everybody. They were all just a bunch of Japs to us. At the time, they had their own section in the prison, they ate in a separate area and the whole bit. The prisoners did what they were told by them. They still had control over their men.
Ron: So even in prison, they were allowed to control their own men?
Chet: They kept them in line. Of course, the Jap prisoners they couldn’t care less. They got a place to sleep that was dry and warm and three square meals a day. They were real[ly] happy. They were not supposed to be captured, for one thing. It was a disgrace for them to be captured, and some of them didn’t want to go home, because of that.
Stuart: Did any of them commit suicide?
Chet: Yes, but not in the camp or anything. A lot of them committed suicide before they were taken prisoner. In Saipan, in the invasion, up on what they call Markie Point, all the natives wound up there. They had these high cliffs, 100 to 200 feet high, and a rocky shore down below. When they got up there, thousands of them pushed the natives over the cliff, then jumped themselves. They were called suicide cliffs. But they did their suicide bit before they were captured, rather than being captured.
Ron: Were you near any of the areas where the storage of the atomic bomb was?
Chet: Yes, when I was on Saipan, it was right on the next island. It was only about a mile away from us where the Enola Gay took off, with the bomb. Of course, nobody was allowed to go over there, that was a really top secret island.
Stuart: Did you know what was over there at the time?
Chet: We had no idea. We found out later that that’s where the Enola Gay took off. We had no idea what was going on. Again, thank you Mr. Harry Truman, that thousands of Americans are still here.
Ron: I know that in David McCullough’s book Truman, he stated that Truman was asked about this over and over again years later. Because the Japanese fought so ferociously on the offshore islands, that’s what lead to his decision to drop the bomb. At the time, though, were you being prepared for the invasion of Japan?
Chet: When they were planning the invasion of Japan, they made up these combat MP battalions, and I was in the 5th Combat MP battalion. Our job was to go in before the first wave, set up the beach and we were to direct traffic when the first wave came in. I found out later that they figured the first three waves would be completely annihilated.
Stuart: You would have seen a lot of deaths in your battalion if there was an invasion.
Chet: I really don’t know…but I don’t think I would be here.
Ron: In other words, before the first wave of infantry to go in, you and your men were supposed to go in.
Chet: Yes.
Stuart: In other words, you and your battalion would have been literally the first people on Japan?
Chet: We would have been annihilated with the rest of them. When Harry said drop the bomb, you’d be amazed about how many guys had their lives saved. It was a terrible thing, but so was Pearl Harbor. What did they think about doing what they did in Pearl Harbor. Everybody’s all upset because they dropped the bomb and killed so many people, but what were the Japanese thinking when they did Pearl Harbor? They didn’t care. They killed as many as they could.
Ron: When you were in Hawaii, were you able to see Pearl Harbor?
Chet: Yes.
Ron: What did you see? I mean, it was well after the attack.
Chet: There were 5000 of us aboard the ship, the General Mayan I believe it was, and we went to Pearl Harbor, of course we were quarantined, because it was too bad since I knew the minister there. He left Stamford and went over to Honolulu. I wanted to get off and see him, but they wouldn’t let you, naturally.
Stuart: Why wouldn’t they let you off?
Chet: We were quarantined. They didn’t want anybody to find out were we were going, how many were on board, or anything like that. Everything was a mystery, a secret. We saw I think it was the Utah still capsized. We could see a lot of the damage still, a lot of the battleships had sunk right there. They were still there. I went back years later on a vacation, my wife and I, we went out to the Arizona and the Utah and a couple of others, and they were still there. That memorial they had on the Arizona was unbelievable. You were walking on hallowed ground when you got on that platform out there. Of course, all the men that were on that ship that day that she went, their bodies are still entombed in that ship. It is still considered an online ship, still on the roster as a fighting ship. It’s a beautiful memorial they have for it. On one end, they list all the names of the 1200 or so people who are still entombed in the ship, and this is years afterwards. Of course, they had cleaned up some of it, but the ships were still a mess.
Ron: On a completely different side of the spectrum, mail call. How important was it to the troops, when you received mail?
Chet: Real exhilaration. You looked forward to that mail call every day. Even if it was just a piece of paper that said hi, it was something from home. You still had a tie back to the states. I didn’t keep all the letters my folks and all sent me, but I kept all the letters Peg sent me, they were in the bottom of my suit bag. I brought them home, after carrying them all to the Pacific. You get down, you pull out a couple of old letters and read them over. It was really great getting mail call. You looked forward to it every single day.
Stuart: What about packages?
Chet: I remember one incident at boot camp. Of course, we were the lowest form of life on Earth at the time. I got a package of cookies my mother had sent me. The DI used to come in and we used to stand there, at the foot of our bunks at attention, and if he called your name, you’d run up and jump into the air, and as you flew by, you grabbed your mail. Needless to say, that box of cookies was totally destroyed. A few guys had some cookies out of it, but if you had one cookie, the rest went to the rest of the guys. There were 64 guys in our group. You really did look forward to that mail, no matter who it was from. I remember one day, we were laying in the sack in Saipan, and I heard a familiar voice over the radio, and I listened to it, and it was a political speech given by George T. Barrett, selectman. So I wrote home about it, that I heard his talk over the air, and he sent me a letter, and there was an article in the Stamford Advocate about me hearing him over on Saipan.
Ron: Do you still have that article?
Chet: Somewhere. I have the certificate when I crossed the dateline, and all of that odd stuff. I was a great saver, I saved everything.
Ron: Now there’s a question that I’ve been meaning to ask you for a long time, and I hope it’s humorous. You claimed that you had the only bathtub on the island of Saipan. What’s the story behind that?
Chet: Down the street from us was a big CB battalion, construction battalion. Right after the war, they shipped them all home but they left everything there. I mean, cranes, bulldozers, they even had a shop there about the size of this library for shoe repair. A shoemaking shop, with soles and heels of shoes. They left everything right there, just packed up and walked out. Naturally, we always liked to scavenge. We looked this camp over after they had gone, and I saw this big metal thing, about two feet deep and wide, six feet deep. Needless to say it was hot and humid over there. We managed to get that thing back to our tent area by that beach. Of course, our tent’s front door was only ten feet from the Pacific Ocean, from the lagoon. The tent overhung a wooden platform by a couple of feet, so I tucked that thing right up there and filled it up with fresh water. When I came off duty or after a workout, I would just sit there for half an hour in the nice, cool water. I think I was the only guy, at least.
Ron: I’ve heard of foraging…
Chet: After the war, five of us were planning to get a ship and come back and pick up the material and bring it home and sell it, but of course the government wouldn’t let you. It would be illegal because they wanted to build brand new stuff and sell it. It’s probably still sitting over there, covered in undergrowth.
Ron: It’s almost a natural human instinct to want souvenirs, and yet some of them could be very dangerous. Did you receive instructions on what to look out for in terms of souvenirs?
Chet: Yes, don’t take any. I was lucky, I got away with some. As a matter of fact, I told you the chopsticks I gave my granddaughter. The guys, they also made a little pair of wooden shoes for me and I got a bunch of stuff, I’m going to donate it to the marine museum down in Florida. It’s just a little box of stuff. There’s a Japanese fan, and some money, playing cards, a lot of little things like that. We went up after the war, they put us on a ship and sent us up to one of the other islands, Tinian. There was over 5000 Japanese still there, a general was in charge of the whole thing. That was one of the islands that they bypassed. Instead of invading every single island in the pacific, they would get their strategic islands and bypass the others, and just leave these guys to die. So we went up there to search them all and put them all on a ship, the Cholum Maroo and ship them back to Japan. I have a scrapbook full of pictures about that. General Ono, I think it was. When we got up there, he had over 5000 men up there. We had to search every single one of them for contraband. Naturally, we pocketed a souvenir here and there, things we didn’t think they had to have. They brought their own dead home too. The guy would have a gauze bandage around his neck, and two square boxes wrapped in white gauze and black gauze with Japanese lettering on it. Somebody else would carry his gear for him. That was his job, to get the remains of these guys home with him, and there were hundreds of these. Of course, we let them go. I got pictures of the whole thing. Of course, we weren’t supposed to have a camera with us. It was definitely forbidden. Somehow I managed to keep the camera over the whole ordeal.
Stuart: How did you manage to do that?
Chet: I don’t know. I wound up with a lot of rolls of film, not knowing what to do with it, but then I found a guy who could do it, so he took my film and did it.
Stuart: Was he on the boat?
Chet: No, right on Saipan.
Ron: Was he in the signal corps?
Chet: I think so. I can’t remember though. I get what they call a senior moment every now and then. I remember one time I met a whole signal outfit. Charley Ginta. They had a new year’s party, the USO. I went to this and they had a map of each state, and you were to go and stick a pin in the city you were from. I went over there to stick a pin in where Stamford was, and I met Charley. I think it was Army Signal Outfit they were all in, a bunch from Stamford, all in the same outfit. I met another fellow I went to school with, Roy Barringshay. He was in the Navy. Saipan was a big naval supply island. Tons and tons of stuff. Roy was in charge of one of them. We used to go down there on Sunday afternoons, and we would have races around there with a forklift, just to pass the time.
Ron: What other type of activities did you do to pass the time? Baseball?
Chet: Rifle inspections, tent inspections. We actually had it pretty good, because we were billeted right outside the POW stockade, in a restricted area. Nobody could come near us unless we wanted them to. They even had a barbershop. Somebody dug up some straight razors, and we had a Jap prisoner who used to shave us. Of course, the first few times, we had a guy sit there with a 45. Then we had a laundry detail. We had one tent, they made a bin for each marine in the outfit, and they’d come around and pick up any dirty clothes and wash them and dry them and iron them and deliver them back to your sack. We used to walk down the beach, it was an army officer’s beach club, and they had a pier and everything, and we used to strip naked and walk down there, there were no women on the island. So we’d walk down the beach and go swimming. They didn’t like that. They were officers, we were enlisted men, you just couldn’t do that, so they put in a complaint, and we got hell for that. Very mysteriously, a few days later, some guys went down there and they had some satchel charges, like knapsacks full of TNT, and somehow, they got attached to this pier, and the whole pier blew up. Of course, they guys disappeared. Naturally, they knew it was us. The first thing we knew, at our front gate, we had already notified everybody, so they had some of their officers come flying down there, they came into the compound to cause trouble. We were having a little trouble with the prisoners that day, and nobody could come into the restricted area. We didn’t have any problems at all, but that’s the way we got around that. We managed to have some fun once in a while. One time we had military police jeeps, with red lights and sirens and everything, with military police across the front. If we wanted to get down to the other end of the island, there were two jeeps one day, we went down the highway one day, red lights and sirens screaming, and all of a sudden, it just so happened that the island commander, it was his car in front of us. We said, what the hell were we going to do? We just kept going. The commander pulled off to the side, and we went right on down and had a good swim that day. If he knew what had gone on, we would have really gotten it. We did manage to have some fun once in a while.
Ron: Home. You describe in your letters about how you’re anticipating home. Everyone wants to go home. You were away for a long time, longest time you ever were. How’d it feel to be back? Is there any way to describe it?
Chet: Not really. I spent eighteen months on Saipan alone.
Ron: Was it by train you came back to Stamford?
Chet: We landed in San Francisco, came back on the troop ship, and when we went by the golden gate, before that everybody was up on deck and there was dead silence. You could hear a pin drop on board. And as we got underneath that bridge, you should have heard the noise. Everybody was screaming and yelling we’re home. They sent us up to the Great Lakes, that’s where I was actually discharged from. Then they put us on the train and of course I wrote home that I’ll be coming home on the train and so forth, and we came into Penn station, and we went over and got the train to Stamford. And of course my parents all met me down at the railroad station, but my girlfriend wasn’t there. She was going to surprise me by coming down to Penn station to meet me. She went down there, and I was home. We had a reunion, but that was really comical. The language we used while in the corps was a little bit different than the one we used at home, so I was deathly afraid that I was going to slip up and automatically use some of that language. It took a while to get used to it really. But the first great feeling was coming under the Golden Gate Bridge. We knew we were back then. I didn’t get into the Marine Corps until way towards the end and there were no more invasions or anything. I didn’t actually go through what a lot of them did. As a matter of fact, my neighbor down in Florida, he was wounded in the invasion of Saipan, and I came along afterwards in the same place. We had a lot to talk about. The different places, and all that, because he was there under different circumstances. He spent a year in the hospital on Pearl Harbor.
Stuart: How long were you away from home?
Chet: Two years.
Ron: Prior to this, how far away from home did you get? Did you go west or anything?
Chet: I think the farthest I ever traveled was to Boy Scout camp, up in Goshen, CT, but I went up there every summer, and I was used to going away, but we missed home. I didn’t realize how close to Japan the Marinas Islands are. I looked at the map, and they were right next-door.
Stuart: How were officers chosen?
Chet: I don’t know. Some of them, I think, by how dumb they were.
Stuart: Did they have to go to college or anything?
Chet: Most of them are that way, either college graduates or in officers training.
Stuart: Did they have to go to a separate drill sergeant’s school or anything?
Chet: The DI in Parris Island were combat guys, who had gone through combat and been wounded and come home and got released. They knew what was going on over there. They put them as Drill Instructors to teach us what it was like over there. That’s why they were so tough, they’d been through it and knew what the guys had gone through and they beat us into a pulp. I was one of the lucky ones, over at the end, and I came back without a scratch. We lost a lot of good buddies over there. I had one buddy, he was from Texas, about 6’5”, one of the nicest guys. He wound up on Okinawa. They put a bunch of guys in there, and within a week they had 95% casualties. They got into hand to hand combat. I was very, very lucky.
Ron: Have you seen the WWII monument in Washington yet?
Chet: I helped pay for it. I’ve got all the material on it, but I haven’t been there. Someday, I want to go down. I got an invitation to go down to see the dedication, but there were thousands and thousands of marines there, which would have been too much. But someday, I hope to go down there.
Stuart: Did you like how the memorial turned out?
Chet: Yes. As far as I know what it looks like, it has been quite a thing.
Stuart: Because there have been criticisms that it is uninspired and plain.
Chet: You can’t please everybody. It’s a memorial anyway, and it was a long time coming. They finally got a memorial. My name is on there somewhere.
Stuart: Are you still in touch with anybody you knew back then?
Chet: Not from my outfit, no. We were from all over the place, all over the country. A lot of guys from down South. Of course, they were still fighting the Civil War. I kept in touch with some guys for a while. One of my best buddies lived in Gainesville, Ohio. After we were out for a couple of months, it was 6 o’clock in the morning, and he was pounding on the front door. He had hitchhiked and got here to Stamford to see me. He wanted me to take off with him, they were going around to see some of the guys. He stayed with me for a few days, and then he left. I didn’t go, I was glad to stay home.
Ron : End of interview

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WWII Exhibit: Chet Buttery
Oral Histories and Memoirs