Today I am going to interview my grandfather, Chester P. Ross, about his
experiences during World War II.
name is Chester P. Ross, yes. I was
born November the eighth, 1924. I
am now 76 years old. After I was drafted I called the draft board to have me go
into the service, because I knew some other fellows who were going in.
I was eighteen years old and I got my orders to go to Warrensburg.
Then I would go to Albany. I
had never been on a train in all my life, and I went from Albany to New York to
Camp Uptonís. Where they then shipped me into different outfits that you go
to. They gave you your physicals,
they gave you your shots, they gave you your formsÖ they give you everything,
there at this station. And then I
rode a train out to Fort Sherman, Illinois, which is out by Missouri. And
there is where I was put into this mechanized anti-aircraft, and we trained
there. We did hikesÖ we had to
train, using a target that was pulled by a plane across the sky, and we had to
shoot at that target.
Well, what happened if you hit the plane?
You werenít supposed to get that close to it because there is a long
cable going back to the target.
What were you doing when you found out that Pearl Harbor had been bombed?
I was at the movie house in the Empire Theater and I remember a slide come
across the screen that the Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor. I said, ďWhat
the hell are they talking about?Ē Iím pretty sure it came back across there
again, Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I came out of the theater and everyone is
buzzing because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. To me it was like, ďwhere
the hell is Pearl Harbor?Ē I didnít know the hell where it was. Anyway,
thatís the way it was.
When we got to Europe, that is the
first time we had ever been on a ship. And
we started out in the bay, where there was a whole bunch of ships.
And, I would say about two days out, I all of a sudden got up one morning
and there was one Ė us. And
I said, ďOh my gosh. Why is there just one boat?Ē
But, I understand there were some problems; there were submarines in the
area. So, we ended up landing in
Glasgow, Scotland and we went to Scotland and we got our vehicles, came off the
boats and everything else. Then we
went to the southern end of England and we guarded an airport where P-47ís and
paratroopers were taking off from, and very shortly after that we got there and
the Germans were pushing out buzz
had these, and they went like a rocket. They
shot them off and they would be loaded with so much gasoline [poured] on them
and they would go so far and then down they would come.
So what we did, we had practiced to shoot at them before they got back
into London and all that. Well anyway, we got smartÖ we didnít want to shoot at
that while it was coming at you, you wanted to have it come at you and shoot at
it after it went by you, so when it came down it was on the other side of you
[laughs]. That wasnít what you were supposed to do but that is what we all
decided, because some of the people did get injured, because they shot it down
and it would come right down where they are, it had a mean explosion.
I waited there and waited there days upon days upon days, and you could tell
that everything had become numb. In
the morning of D-day, the airplanes that we were at were taking off with
paratroopers. They were pulling
gliders, with the paratroopers on it. And
everything was quiet, and after that we boarded a ship and we sat on the ship
for quite some time because our vehicles were not ready to get off the ship.
What ship was it?
I canít remember what shipÖ but I did go over onto the Amsterdam,
which was an English ship, and I did get seasick.
But, then we landed on Omaha Beach, there wasnít very much around.
Thatís where we first got into artillery shells from the enemy. We were with General Patton.
Have you heard of General Patton?
Well, he was a great general. They
called him ďBlood and GutsĒ. Our
blood and his guts [laughs]. But,
he was not in the back, he was right in the front line.
I could see him right in front of me, just as well as anybody else.
And we had been all the way across France, the villages in France; I
didnít care too much about them. Some
of our tanks couldnít even make the turns because of the barns that would go
right next to the road. Some of the
tanks would have to knock off corners of buildings so they could get through
there. But we went from there into Metz. Then the battle of Old
Bastogne started. We went into
Bastogne, and that wasÖ well, that was not too pleasant.
It was cold. I ate my
Christmas dinner sitting on top of a dead German. [Pauses] What else do you want?
You can go on, I donít mind.
Then, after we held Bastogne on that day, I know it was a problem for
me [because] I was sitting up on
the hill and there were shelling all around the Bastogne.
Yet, never hitting this hill that we were sitting on.
And I said to the fellows, ďLetís get out of here.Ē
So we moved our two vehicles over to another location.
That night they shelled the hill right where we were.
And we went back over to look and right where we were camped there was a
great big crater where a shell had gone right in and popped.
Which was lucky, and I just said to myself, ďThis canít continue, it
canít go all the way around us and not hit the spot.Ē
So, we moved and we were lucky. And
I was lucky like that a couple times. I
saw a couple shells that scared the pants off of me.
I prayed to the Lord that I would be a good boy, and I would go to
church. I would do this, I would do
that. Just get me out of here.
There were some kids, who were little S.S., they were not sixteen years
old, and they were shooting 88ís right at us.
You know, direct fire, right at us.
I was scaredÖ I mean, I was scared.
I ran and I ran and I ran, I jumped over a hill.
I prayed and I prayed, but I was lucky.
I made it through.
Where was this, where the kids were?
I canít rememberÖ It was after the Bastogne.
I did go from the Bastogne into Germany, and, all the way through Germany, I
didnít get to Berlin or any of those places......... I didnít get to Paris
either. We started in Paris and they turned us around. So, I didnít get to see
the big cities, but I saw a lot of little cities. I crossed the Rhine River on a
What think were your most memorable experiences?
Well, the most memorable experiences, was when I was telling you, the kids
shooting at us direct fire and you would hear the bang and you would be right
there and scared. I mean I was so scared, that probably my hair was standing up
straight; it was anyways because I had a brush cut. And I ran and jumped over
this hill to show them we were over the top of the hill where we were and
exploding on the other side. We were lucky though, we got out of it but lost a
lot of vehicles at that point. But we were lucky we got out. I know a guy who
said he dug himself into a bank and had a nice hole; but a shell came along and
hit, skipped and hit the vehicle with the bumper, it skidded and went right
smack into the hole that they were in. I mean, you think your safe but the guy
up there [God] is the only one that saves you.
I did promise him a lot of things but I canít keep all of my promises.
What was going through your mind before combat?
What was going through my mind before combat! What I would be capable doing, how
I would react, and being scared, but I was young. Right now probably I would
twice as scared, as I was when I was 18. When you are 18 you take more chances
than when you are 35 or 40. But that was the most scared part of my whole trip
over there. One other time when we were driving down through France, on a
nighttime convoy, I just happened to look out the side of my vehicle, and I
could see this hand pointing like this [makes hand gesture like a gun pointing]
and all of a sudden BANG!!!!! But I ducked down in the vehicle, and I looked at
the driver and the driver said, ďDid you get hitĒ. I said no. It had hit
right on the frame of the vehicle, right ahead of me, but it didnít him, and
it didnít hit me either, thatís how close it was. What it was, a guy in the
back end shot a guy who was doing it, he was a German, that had gone in to the
civilians and he pulled a pistol out and shot, but he got shot. Thatís another
scary part! There is a lot of scary parts like this with great big airplanes,
but I am very fortunate, I am very lucky I got out of there pretty clear.
Did you make a lot of friends over there?
Oh, you make friends in your outfit and also another outfit. Some times
regarding Red ball express which carries all the supplies to the front line.
This one group we were with was carrying gasoline. The colored guys were driving
most of the vehicles. They hated nighttime and we were to guard them. They said
to us ďyou go to sleep, weíll tell you when to get up because weíre not
going to sleep anytime.Ē They were really good. Thatís the time when we went
back into the dumps where they keep all of the supplies and ammunition and
everything else. I have always been a good man to eat, and when we went back to
the ration dumps we also helped ourselves to the good rations that were in
there. One time we were there and they had some of the new stuff. Iíll tell
you what rations, which was chicken. There was canned chicken. Big cans like
this [approximately eight inches high, three inches round] it was officer
material. We took it in our
vehicle. We ate well. [Laughs]
Was it good food?
Very good food. Powdered milk, the first I have ever had. The first I have ever
had powdered milk over there.
Didnít you tell me before about eating cereal and having little ants in it?
Yes, oh yes. The kids over there loved it because, in some of those rations
there were chocolate bars, but it was bitter, it wasnít sweet chocolate. It
was bitter chocolate, but they loved it. They loved it. So, we used to have a
trade. We used to trade that for bottles of wine and anything else we needed,
food. We used to go up and steal some farmerís chickens. Iíd take the meat
of their head like [pretends to grab a chicken by the neck] that and chh chh [makes
noise] crank their head right off. They donít make any noise that way.
We also used to go steal their hay for our bed we wouldnít want to sleep on
the mud, so we took the hay, laid it on the ground and slept on the hay.
How did you cook the chicken?
We cooked the chicken in our helmets. You washed it in your helmet, you bathed
in your helmet and you used it for protection on your head.
And you ate on your helmet?
No, we had a mess kit. Sometimes weíd be lucky and get back to camp that had a
kitchen and they would have better food than what we were eating. Once in a
while you would get a shower, but most of the time you could take your uniform
off and it would stand right there straight.
Most of the time you slept in dirt. I have washed some clothes off of
gasoline and then rinse the out in the brooks. Sometimes the ring around the
collar gets a little stiff, but as I said, you are young and you do those
things. When you get older, you can see the older guys didnít care so much
about whatís going on. They wore uniforms too, but I was afraid. At times I
was scared to death. I just prayed to get home thatís all. There was a little
stray puppy we picked up there. No body claimed it. So Chester claimed it. We
carried it with us for a long, long time. After awhile we had to drop him off,
we couldnít keep him. That little dog ran after us, ran after us and ran after
us, but he couldnít catch us. I just hoped somebody else picked him up.
Where were you when the war ended?
I was in Germany, I canít remember what town, but I was in Germany right next
to the Russians.
Did you fight with the Russians against the Germans?
We were pushing the Germans to the Russians. The Russians fought the Germans,
more than us. They [the Germans] wanted to come to us. They were surrendering to
us. What it ended up was a line [that formed with the Russians on the eastern
side, the Americans on the western side, and the Germans in the middle]. All the
people [Germans] were trying to get from the Russian side to our side. So, every
night, we would be stuck with serenades of German to the Russian people firing
their ammo-machine guns at any noise they heard, so you wanted to make sure you
got yourself into the hole. They didnít care who they shot.
How did you find out when the war ended?
it was going over the radio. I had radios.
Did they just announce that it was over?
Not only that, but all of the sudden, you see all of the lights coming on.
Before there was no light, it was black. The vehicleís lights started
shinning; the towns were lit up a little bit better than they were before. Then
we knew the war was over. That is when they put us on taking care of the Russian
Germans. I had to check roadblocks. If a guy didnít have a permit for a
vehicle, Iíd take it away from him. So, down the road comes this German
motorcycle, pushing it. I asked him if he had a permit, he said no, so I took
it. He jibber jabbered at me for a long time, but I didnít understand a word
he said anyway. Well anyway, I took off to the side to see if I could start it
back up. I cranked at it a few times, finally, I put some of our gasoline in it
and got it started. I took it for a spin up the road. I forgot that the road
went that way [to the left], so I went right off into the woods. I kind of burnt
myself a little bit; I had torn the muffler off the motorcycle. I righted it
back up, got it started and brought it back. My God, was it a noisy thing
because in most French towns, the houses were built tight and close together,
when I was going down with that old muffler you would think a Sherman tank was
coming through! So, I left the motorcycle there. The guy never did get his
motorcycle back, but I did have a ride on a motorcycle. That was the first I
have ever been on a motorcycle.
When did you find out about Truman dropping the bomb, the A-bomb?
Oh, the atomic bomb. Oh man, I donít remember that one. I think I was in a
camp. We were worried about getting transferred back to the Pacific, I know for
a while, then all of the sudden the war changed. I was put on just to take care
of keeping the people strait and giving them work to do.
Did you keep in touch with your mom a lot when you were overseas?
I wrote to my mother quite a few times and I tried to tell her where I was at
different times. I would put something in like [a code name] Nancy, and I would
ask her about Nancy. They didnít catch on to what I was talking about. They
censored all of your mail. Sometimes, when you sent a letter home you would find
that there was a whole bunch of sections cut right out of the letter. They had
to go through and do this so if the enemy got a hold of them, and then they
could find where you were. But I did write letters; I hardly got any back
though. There was a man that would get after you if you didnít write home
Did your brothers see as much combat as you did?
one of them saw much combat. Fred was in the radios; he worked on the airplane
radios and stuff. My other brother [Lancer] was in the chemical, and they never
used him in the war. They saw each other once. I never saw either one of them. I
didnít run into many people that I knew over there either. I was the youngest
one in my outfit.
Do you have any problems watching war movies today?
I do watch a lot of war movies. It doesnít bother me, it bothers my wife
though. I laugh at a lot of them because I know a lot of it isnít true and it
couldnít happen that way. My favorite war movie is Patton.
As I said, I was
young. I did things that I wouldnít do now. When I came home from the war, I
almost killed my brother in his sleep. I woke him up a couple times, had him by
the throat. I was dreaming that I was still in combat. But after that, it
doesnít bother me.
How do you feel about your former enemies now?
I never minded the Germans, I was more afraid of the FMI (?), thatís the
French. They would steal your shoes if they had the chance. With the Germans,
what I think what happened was they just got brainwashed, like the younger
generation. I donít know how they just let these things happen. But they did
happen. The way they killed all the Jewish and whatever else they did. I went to
Buchenwald, that was a concentration camp. I have pictures of bodies stacked
up about [10-12] feet high. The people were no bigger than just plain bone;
there was nothing to them. And thatís what you would want to see to change
everyoneís thinking about war, about dictatorship, and all that stuff.
What did you do at the prison camps?
We went in and relieved them. The Germans had already left because they didnít
want to be caught there. The people didnít have clothing, or food. It was a
wicked sight. We couldnít stay there long; there was an outfit that came along
after us that did all the work. All we did was make sure that there were no
Germans there. We even checked the burn plants where they burned them up, there
werenít Germans there, they had left.
Donít you have a Purple Heart?
I have a Purple Heart, but I didnít want the Purple Heart. I got wounded, but
I didnít think it was worth much to talk about. I didnít want it. It was
sent home to my mother, and I donít even know how she got it, to tell you the
truth. I just got a scratch on me, thatís all. A piece of artillery shell
exploded near where I was and she got me in the back. Thatís all it was, a
skin! I went to the first aid station, because I didnít know how much the guy
told me it was bleeding. They just put some stuff on it, and a bandage, told me
I was going to be alright, and all of a sudden my mother gets a purple heart!
You usually get a purple heart home when a guy gets killed, but I was very
fortunate I wasnít killed.
Well, grandpa, I think thatís it!
Oh, weíre done? Did I do alright?
Yes, thank you so much!
know, I have never talked with a person about this at all. I know itís gone
past. I think that I was lucky to get home. There are a lot of my friends over
there, not many, but there is a few who didnít make it. I just feel sorry for
them, more than I feel sorry for myself.
interview conducted and transcribed by Emma, Jessica,
and Laura '03
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