The Memoirs of Armand Charest Part I

Chapter 5

Alphonse changes jobs and Armand gets drafted…

The man’s honesty had always been above reproach. He had been able to buy food for the family through the restaurant owner’s good credit rating. One day a lousy pound of butter disappeared. The owner’s wife accused Alphonse of taking it. His reaction was one of outrage. He removed his apron and walked out.

On his way downtown when he tried to cool off, another restaurant owner asked him what he was doing, Alphonse told him the story. The man replied to follow him to his own place. My father had a new job. But at that time his health was beginning to crack. He had developed throat cancer some time previously and it was beginning to spread. This was 1939.

In desperation he spent the summer at my Uncle’s house at the beach. Both men opened a hamburger place. I joined Alphonse for the summer where I learned to peel potatoes and cook hamburgers. In 1941 I believe Alphonse borrowed some money and went back into the restaurant business by buying an empty establishment and running it so well with the family’s help especially George that my mother was able to sell it for a very good price after Alphonse passed away. We had fun without really realizing it. We thought the good times would never end. Then came Pearl Harbor and the lives of the Charest family along with million others, changed forever.

We were at lunch on a Sunday afternoon when we heard the news over the radio. Most of us did not really know where Pearl Harbor was. I believed that the war would be over before I could get involved. My father was quick to re-assure me that my wearing eyeglasses would exempt me from service. So I relaxed.

In June 1942, I graduated from high school and began my apprenticeship as a toolmaker with a well-known tool and gage manufacturer. The country was united in fighting the war. The government began to draft millions of men to build up its military forces. Women began to work in defense plants taking the men’s places; many would never return to the kitchen. In January 1943, I received my first draft notice, but since I was involved in national defense work, I was deferred. In July the roof caved in and I received my second notice. I immediately volunteered for the CBs, the construction section of the Navy. I had some experience by this time and the Navy was desperately in need of experienced workers. But lo and behold I was turned down due to bad eyesight.

So I took the bus to Providence where I took my physical examination for the army. I believed I was home safe when at noon someone announced: “Those men whose names I call will stand here to the right.”

He went through the first two letters and I held my breath as he came to “C.”

He went right by and so I sighed in relief. Then came the crushing news.

“Those men that I have called out put on your clothes and go home. The rest of you prepare to take the oath. You are now in the army. Congratulations!!!”

It might be the time to write something about the events that took place in the intervening years between the two world wars so that the grandchildren may know the reason for the war. It is widely believed that the main cause of the first war fought by the countries of Europe was because Serbian terrorists had assassinated the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. In actuality after one hundred years of peace, the Europeans might have been tired of it and they sought excuses for going to war, a war in which over twenty-five million people perished, five monarchies disappeared and the map of Europe was once again re-drawn.

Germany became a nation of disaffected, disillusioned, disappointed people. When in 1933 a man named Adolph Hitler came to power, the stage was set for another war. He mesmerized the German nation into believing that the Jewish population was responsible for all economic and social problems, including the betrayal of the army in the first war.

He frightened France and England into not opposing him as he took the Rhineland, a land bordering the Rhine River, Austria, the Sudetanland, the part of Czechoslovakia containing many Germans and, finally, he took the country itself. When in September 1939, he attacked Poland under the excuse that Polish soldiers had fired on Germany proper, France and England declared war.

The war lasted until the month of May 1945. Eventually, America entered the war when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The country mobilized for the first time in its history and by the end of the war it had over fourteen million men and women in the military services.

The members of the Alphonse Charest family who took part in the war were: Adrian in the army, Armand in the army, Louis George in the merchant marine, Lionel Hurteau in the navy, Leo Forand in the army, Armand Duclos in the air corps, John B. Danese in the army. Adrian and Armand served in the Pacific Theater; George traveled the world bringing supplies and weapons to the troops; Leo Forand served in Europe, John Danese was in North Africa and Italy; Armand Duclos served as a mechanic instructor in the air corps; Lionel Hurteau was stationed in North Africa.

I cannot write about the experiences of others, I can only put down what I saw and did, primarily for the benefit of my children and grandchildren.

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