Chester Jr., Alden Mike oral history [Part II of II]
Interview Pt 2 with Mr. Alden Mike Chester
Interviewed by Andrew Bain
Recorded on initially 10/16/2005] this transcript reflects the interview in Feb 2006
Transcribed on 3/2/06-3/4/06
[Interview starts at 002 on the counter]
AC: Alright, you want to say anything to date this thing?
AB: No, I can do that later.
AC: Uh, the first question is kind of interesting, Where were you stationed? Now this is a term that you hear today, somebody’s stationed here and stationed there and what have you. We never used the word stationed, didn’t even think of being stationed. We were an expeditionary force, AEF, American Expeditionary Force, is what they called us in World War I. Where were we stationed? We were stationed in Europe. Typically, when we use the word station, because you never used that, you never thought of being stationed. We landed in France, Cherbourg, and, walked, motored, drove, walked our way all the way to the Elba River in Germany, in Magdeburg, where we met the Russians. Where were we stationed, wherever we could lie down and get a little sleep or something, in terms of being stationed, I’m sure there were troops in World War 2, that were stationed someplace. It wasn’t a word we ever used, didn’t even think of being stationed, you were constantly on the move. After the war, I came back shortly after the war, so, I can’t say I was stationed anyplace after the war.
AC: Relative dates? Yeah, we landed, in July, August of 1944, and came back a year or so later. Where I was in Germany I can’t tell you, I don’t remember. I mean some of them where little towns you wouldn’t remember anyway, we walked through Aachen I remember that one. Magdeburg, I remember going to the [Motzartineum?] Vienna, one time, other than that, didn’t know, and for the most part didn’t care. Really wasn’t that important.
AC: What was your company, was that not, the way I answered that? Are you sure you understand everything?
AB: Yeah that’s great.
AC: What was your company like? Well, I’m not sure I understand the question by company, who, what were my company, like constant companions? Well, you put together a hodgepodge of people, from all walks of life, essentially trying to do the same thing. It’s kind of hard to describe the company, you had some people you liked, and some you didn’t care about, it didn’t make much difference you were put together, you didn’t choose your companions, your companions were whoever you happened to be with whatever squad, company, platoon that you were assigned to, so it was a day-to-day existence, if your in training, or in action, but of course your not in action that often, the action is kind of, you move forward, then you wait, then you advance, it wasn’t a stationary thing like the trenches in World War One for example. So, what was your company like, well, you never gave much thought to it, your company was yourself. I read a lot, I read, in fact, I tried to carry a book with me most of the time, whenever I had the chance, I might read, but you never thought, you didn’t think of the word company, in the sense, its not unlike a workplace.
Somebody goes on the assembly line. What’s this company like? Well, it depends on who they assign next to me. Who your assigned with, even in business, if your with an office group, who’s your company? Well, it depends on the company your with. Good guys, bad guys, pretty much looking out for themselves, and each other too, as much as possible, trying to work as a team, but again, it wasn’t the working eight hours a day, and playing four hours a day, then sleeping eight hours a day, your either awake or asleep, and if your awake your working, whatever that may be.
AC: Does that answer your question? I put together, what an infantry division looks like, because I have a feeling you don’t know much about it. I tried to do a little homework too. I had breakfast with my Andy this morning, that’s my son. And I thought this might give you some idea of what we did, since, its not very important, to give you some idea when you ask a question, in relation to, mortar squad in relation to the rifles and the artillery, well, so how does it go together, here’s a division, 102nd infantry division, about 12 to 15 thousand troops. It’s composed of three regiments, 405th, 406th, and 407th, and these are infantry regiments. Now there’s a lot of support, that goes into this that you don’t see in this, but this is a fighting man’s, so the 405th, 406th, 407th regiment, I was in the 407th. The regiment has three battalions, first second and third battalion. Each battalion has four companies, able, baker, Charlie, dog, easy, fox, hello, something, king, k company. I was in k company. K company was about 400 people. So here you go, 407th regiment third battalion, k company, king company, they say king, [unrecognizable] you don’t say k company, you say king company, you recognize it, you don’t have an I company because they would confuse it with one. K company probably has three or four rifle platoons. And a weapons platoon. Weapons platoon consisted of a light machine gun section, and a 60mm mortar section, and it also has a couple headquarters platoons, and that was probably this, and probably each one of these, a company going into action. Now these are the enemy lines here ok, first platoon up here, first squad, second squad, third and fourth squad. These little circles are men. Second platoon, was composed of first second and third squads, and finally, a third platoon, in reserve, you always had a little reserve. Right where these are, that’s where these are. Now, right between them you’d have the machine gun section and mortar section. And these are all mortar squads. Here’s the front line, front line riflemen, reserves, and machine guns, and mortars. This is maybe a hundred yards. You get shot at in other words.
AB: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you.
AC: Now, there are also, within the infantry divisions, artillery battalions, your heavy artillery, your light artillery which are all backup groups. Anyway, does that give you some idea when I say mortar squad, what it is. It’s part of a rifle company, a rifle company is the one right up front. The guys that get shot at. What was the nice thing about a mortar squad? We were a hundred yards behind. We got to shoot at the other guys first. Ok? Does that, answer your question?
What exactly was the [unrecognizable]? Well, you’ll learn that in a mortar squad you have, your, the sergeant, or the head; the leader of the squad. And you’d have, you’d have the gunner, the assistant gunner. Two people operated the mortar, more than that, you had two ammunition carriers, well, three depending on. What was your relation to the artillery? They were way back there someplace; along with the cooks. ASTP. This is kind of interesting. I mentioned it, kind of because I happened to be in it, ASTP stood for Army Specialized Training Program. Now, as I said before, at that time, I was drafted. 1943. If you wanted to volunteer you could volunteer for the Marine Corps but I had no intention of doing that. Not that kind of a hero. That’s not my makeup. You could volunteer for that, but for the most part you were drafted you were brought into the service, and if, it was so setup at that time, even if you wanted to go in early, you couldn’t, I mean they were just too congested, they selected them as they need them, so you couldn’t volunteer for anything but the Marine corps. You could express a desire to go into the Navy, or maybe the Air Force. Incidentally, there was no Air Force at that time. Does that strike you as being peculiar?
AB: No, I’d heard that before.
AC: Why? Well, there was no Air Force. There was an Air Corps. And the Air corps was under the Army what we called the Air Force at that time was not a separate service as it is today. Like the Army, the navy and the Air Force. We had an Army and a Navy, the Marines were under the Navy, and the Air corps was under the Army. If you went into the, what we called the air force, you first had to go into the army. There, you could elect to go into the air corps, the Army Air corps as it was called, there was no such thing as an Army Air Force. At that time, they had too Army draftees. They weren’t going to let them sit around and say, hey just be a civilian for a little while longer, so they had this testing program for those who could qualify, frankly the better educated, smarter young men could qualify on this test. With that you could go into the ASTP, at that time, you could have an infantry basic, which is basic training, which I had at Camp Hood, Texas. And then, you would go to some college of their choice, until such time that you were needed. If you were already in the service, you could elect to take the test and qualify for the ASTP and you could do that, provided, if you had rank, you had to go back to private, which a lot of them did just that for a chance to go to college at that time. Why yes they would take the test, qualified the test, they could take a reduction in rank, and be sent to college until a such time that they would be needed again. The whole idea, basically was just a reserve tank, and it was for those who were smarter, better educated, that could be put into this reserve tank, or whatever period the Army or Navy decided. The Navy had a similar program it was called v-12. So what are you gonna do, it wasn’t hard to make a choice or say you wanted to go and start out in the infantry, go overseas in the infantry, you wanted to have an education, go to college. Well, a bunch of us said hey, we’re going to college, and that’s the way it was and a lot of us did. I have a lot of friends that went into the ASTP program for the same reason. And you didn’t think you were a slacker, you were just a, someone had to go, you had too many listees, draftees at that time and they couldn’t use them in any other place, and they weren’t going to let them sit around as a civilian, so they took the smarter ones and put them in school as a holding tank. It wasn’t a difficult choice to make. Ok? Does that make sense to you?
AC: What was your training experience like in the ASTP. It was an infantry basic, I went to Purdue and took an engineering courses. It was a specialized training it was technical training you couldn’t go, and take, or study philosophy, or such things as that or English history, it had to be a technical program. As I said at the beginning I think it came about because of world war 1, they lost so many of their best men in the trenches because they, they would only put the gentlemen as officers, and all the gentlemen were the educated class, so if you lost them you lost them. Ok? Am I going to fast or saying too much?
AB: No, no your fine.
AC: What is your opinion on the difference between the German and the American soldier? The biggest difference between, the Youth Corps, and the Boy scouts. I’m going to give you the side here. Well, the two questions certainly go together. The German soldier certainly is better trained. I think, he started his military life in the Hitler Jugend, the Hitler youth, so he got his basic training when we were in Boy Scouts. So he certainly was a better trained soldier, ethnically, he was basically, one race an Arian race. They didn’t have a mixture of races within the, the ethnic groups I should say within their services, as we do, and certainly that makes things a little easier, with how you handle things and how you get along, the compatibility of the troops and such, but bear in mind that the Germans used an awful lot of foreign troops too. We’re not talking about, at the end of the war, he was fighting on his homeland. How long has it been we’ve fought any foreign troops in the United States, hasn’t been since the war of 1812. So he’s fighting for his homeland. I think, a lot of people, and a lot of people in Germany don’t like it, but I think that the German people, the ethnic group are more used to a strong, centralized government that pretty much tells them what to do, it doesn’t bother them like it bothers us. Doesn’t bother the French either, their used to a strong central government, and look at the history of Germany, Kaiser, Bismarck, they spent most of their life fighting battles, from Bismarck to the Kaiser world War 1 to Hitler, they seem to have a tradition of doing that. A feeling of militarism is a part of their culture, lets say that they have, I’m sure there are plenty of Germans who take exception to that, but nevertheless. That’s what it always seemed to us, certainly as far as the training was concerned they were better trained, and both physically and mentally, yes they were better trained then us. Better equipped then us? No, certainly not. We overwhelmed them with our equipment, that’s what that book is all about the one that I showed you, how that, that was. So they were certainly man for man I would say they were a better soldier. They, were prepared to give their life, would you say that we were prepared to give our lives? It wasn’t our thought, our thought was to stay alive more than anything else. Our training was, I can’t say exactly what the German training was, although I think they were, you look at all the books that you read about the takeover of the Nazi party, and how they emphasized the culture, the one race culture. How they emphasized militarism, the storm troopers the SS, the SA, and all the rest of them, they were a militaristic society. The Germans seem to be very, very happy with this, much more so then we would’ve been. Our training was a basic training, pretty sloppy frankly. Like I said before, but it wasn’t good, we even got training films on the use of horse cavalry, hell, there wasn’t even any horse cavalry at that time, but that’s all they had. Just think, basic training we might take long marches, but did we get out and jog and do the physical exercise that would really put you into condition? No, never jogged once in world war II. You get groups out and jog for a few miles and that kind of thing conditioning, but when I look back it was better bad, but hey, this is a citizen army. I mean here, they haven’t been in the service before, they were poorly trained, the Cadre, the standing army, the Cadre wasn’t large enough, even up to World War I we had never had a standing army in the United States we’d never had a standing army. Until World War I, until World War II, and then after that it went down, and we really had to rebuild an army for the Korean War that we maintained a standing army. My point is, where did the Cadre come from? Who trained the troops? This massive build up of World War II, when you have professionals training non-professionals, those non-professionals trained more non-professionals who trained more non-professionals. Well, you go down the line it gets a little loose and sloppy. It’s not anybody’s fault, its just the way it is because that’s the kind of country we are. So, our training was certainly as not as good as it could of been. Is somebody at fault for that? No, its just the fact that we live in a democracy and we don’t choose to have a militaristic wraparound, That’s why I like the professional army that we have today, I think is a superbly trained army, very competitive professionals who do a fine job and we are very fortunate to have them right now, also the one thing that is so important, our officer core were all educated, almost, not every one of them, but to a large degree they all have had a good sound college education, now you know first you think education, college education consistent with the studies of humanities and the study of the war. I think that’s a big factor and you could say the same thing for the British Army. I don’t know about the Germans, the Germans felt that certainly not in World War II. Rattling on here is this ok?
AB: No, this is fine.
AC: Are you understanding what I’m saying here?
AB: The only question that I have for you is, the Cadre? Is that just a standing army?
AC: Yeah, ok, it’s just a word that’s used to, Cadre would come from the standing army, so you take all these troops and all of a sudden this private becomes a sergeant, and he’s training troops, and that’s the Cadre, Cadre means training, so the cadre would come from the standing army, or in this case, from the professionals train the nonprofessionals, those non professionals then become the cadre. Just look the word up you’ll find it, its commonly used as a cadre, when you put together a new unit they might have some officers and men from other units come in and they put it together and that’s the cadre. The training, the war is kind of built around that.
I like this question, what’s the different between the Hitler Youth Corps and the Boy scouts? Here are two groups, of young people high school age kids, who are being indoctrinated. I don’t think many people would take issue to the fact that the boy scouts are being indoctrinated, but they are being indoctrinated to a degree considering what they do, what they’re asked to do what they’re trained to do. Were you ever in scouting Andy?
AB: For a year.
AC: Well, then you know a little bit about, so your in scouting your indoctrinated with the idea that being of value of society, doing, living a clean life, looking out for other people, learning to live under more difficult conditions such as your scouting, your hiking, your overnights and what have you. But the fundamental goal of scouting, and I have two boys that were in scouts, one an eagle scout the other, he was as an eagle and a life scout. To teach leadership, this is the fundamental goal of scouting, to teach young men leadership. Those who stay in the program, become leaders within the scouting program, and its fundamental to scouting. Is the indoctrination of leadership and the teaching of the fundamentals of leadership. What were the fundamentals and indoctrinations for the Jugend? Not leadership, but to follow. They were taught to follow. They were conditioned to follow, to take orders, to do what they were told, to believe in the Fuhrer, leader, and to all think the same way, and to all do it the same way. The way the government did it. They were all taught to follow, scouts was leadership which is a fundamental difference between the two. You always look for something good topics to write about that someone hasn’t already thoroughly covered that might be interesting.
So your last question, why’d you choose an infantry division instead of a Navy or a paratrooper division? Kind of easy, one I didn’t want to be a paratrooper, and I didn’t want to be a marine. The navy ASTP was an army program, I was qualified for it I easily passed the test. I didn’t even really think of going any place else. I didn’t really, what a chose was to go into the ASTP. Which meant I was in the Army, and after they found they needed soldiers, they would draw them out of this college reserve, and assign you to wherever, pretty much where you wanted to go. So, there, the only choice I ever made was my decision to sign up for the ASTP. After that, you kind of, your choices are somewhat limited, you weren’t given choices. You were told. Anything else?
AB: That’s all I had actually.
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