Interview of Chester Stevens
Transcript Number 056
Today is May 21, 2001. We're talking to Chester Stevens of Whiteville, North Carolina. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corp. This was prior to the days of the U.S. Air Force in World War II in England and in France. Mr. Stevens will now tell us when and how he got into the army and some things about what he did during his term in the army.
CHESTER: I was drafted in 1942, November of 1942. I went into that training, I took my basic training in Keesler Field, Mississippi. Then we went somewhere in Chicago, Chanute Field in Chicago, and I stayed there until about.....
RAY: November of '44, probably?
CHESTER: No, I stayed in that camp until about 1943. We came out and went to Oklahoma and went down there for a while. Then we come to Charleston and stayed there until we went overseas.
INTERVIEWER RAY: Where did you leave from to go overseas?
CHESTER: We left from New York, it was in December, right at Christmas time.
INTERVIEWER RAY: You went on a troop ship in a convoy?
CHESTER: No, on the Queen Mary. It took us about four days to get over there. We landed in...
INTERVIEWER RAY: Southampton?
CHESTER: Yeah. We stayed there for about a week and then we went to _______ and we stayed there for over two years.
INTERVIEWER: And, what was the name of the town?
CHESTER: Bury St. Edmunds, the American army air force base. We were about four or five miles out and we stayed there until after the war.
INTERVIEWER: And, what was your job at St. Edmunds?
CHESTER:: We done some of everything, I reckon.
INTERVIEWER: But, you were the motor pool.
CHESTER: Yes, sir. I worked for the motor pool and it was in the oldest town while I was in the army. We had to just go wherever they wanted us to go.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of people did you drive with?
CHESTER: We drove big trucks, 2 1/2 feet of wheels and jeeps from home.
2ND INTERVIEWER PAUL: Did you ever go pick up supplies?
2ND INTERVIEWER: Did you ever go pick up any supplies?
CHESTER: Yeah. We picked up supplies and anything we had to get.
INTERVIEWER: Anything you needed to drive you could drive it. And, what kind of airplanes did you have at Bury St. Edmunds?
CHESTER: The first planes we got a hold of were P38's.
INTERVIEWER: Twin grooves?
CHESTER: Yeah. We didn't work with them for very long. As soon as they got P51's, they were the regular planes. It was a good plane.
INTERVIEWER: Did they keep the P38's on the base or did they move them somewhere else?
CHESTER: They moved them somewhere else, I don't know where. They carried them off.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any problems on that base?
CHESTER: Yes, we had bombers and P38's and P51's; more of P51's most of the time.
INTERVIEWER: And, you hauled supplies in and out of the base?
CHESTER: Yeah, anything we needed. I hauled for a long time to the girls that were, uh....
CHESTER: No, they were.....
INTERVIEWER: Well, just take your time. You left the base a lot to go and pick up supplies?
2ND INTERVIEWER: Didn't you drive the truck to go and pick up the bread?
CHESTER: Yeah, we picked up the bread.
INTERVIEWER: How did you get along driving on the wrong side of the road over there?
CHESTER: I made out but it was kind of a bad thing.
INTERVIEWER: You went against what you've always done, didn't you? What were you living in? Were they tents or barracks?
CHESTER: They were barracks; all the home crews in one barracks. It was big, I don't know what it was but it was big business.
INTERVIEWER: Did you eat your meals in that same building?
CHESTER: No, we went a couple of blocks over to the mess hall.
INTERVIEWER: Were the barracks built of brick or wood?
CHESTER: I reckon it was brick.
INTERVIEWER: Was that a royal air force base?
CHESTER: It was good.
INTERVIEWER: You stayed there about two years.
CHESTER: Two years.
INTERVIEWER: And, from there you went to France?
CHESTER: To France.
INTERVIEWER: How did you get to France?
CHESTER: A state ship or something. It was a sorry looking thing, but we went over on it anyway.
INTERVIEWER: Did you drive your trucks on it?
CHESTER: No, they carried them later on.
INTERVIEWER: And, where did you land in France? Do you remember? Was it Maharb?
CHESTER: I reckon it was.
INTERVIEWER: Now, this was after the war?
CHESTER: After the war. It was about September or October that we went over there. We just messed around.
INTERVIEWER: You didn't have much work to do?
CHESTER: No. They tell me the German prisoners gave us KP and all that so we didn't have nothing to do.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have to stand guard duty over there?
CHESTER: No, we didn't have to do that. It seemed like that I would never come home. I didn't ever have enough points. I think it was 55 points is all Ihad.
INTERVIEWER: You saw a lot of people going home?
CHESTER: Yes I did.
INTERVIEWER: Now, when you went into the army, what were you doing? Were you farming?
CHESTER: Yeah, I was a farmer all my life.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think about the farming in England compared to our farming.
CHESTER: They make a little money out of it but it's mighty slow. I knew it would be.
2ND INTERVIEWER: He visited some slaughter houses and stuff, he had pictures.
INTERVIEWER: So, you did get to go to the slaughter houses over there.
CHESTER: Oh yeah. That's what I done after the war. We signed up with farming people.
CHESTER: We went everywhere. That's what we done.
INTERVIEWER: Did you buy any beef from those people for the army or not?
CHESTER: No. We didn't buy no meat.
INTERVIEWER: So, you didn't do much truck driving in France or much hauling and stuff?
CHESTER: No, not as much. We went everywhere else.
INTERVIEWER: Where were you stationed in France, do you remember? Was it near Paris?
CHESTER: It was a good ways from Paris. I don't remember, I'll think of it.
INTERVIEWER: Well, you can back up anytime you want to. Do you remember the month and the year you left for home?
CHESTER: Yeah, it was in 1942.
INTERVIEWER: I mean left from France to come back home?
CHESTER: Oh yeah, it was in March of 1946. I forgot what the day was.
INTERVIEWER: Were you married when you were drafted?
CHESTER: Yeah, I was married and I had been married three or four years. I'd been married about five years.
2ND INTERVIEWER: That was to the first wife.
INTERVIEWER: They took some of your pay over to your wife, didn't they? Didn't they send some of your money, some of your pay? I knew that used to do that with married soldiers.
Well, Mr. Stevens, in France you didn't do a whole lot of driving to work did you?
CHESTER: No, no. We didn't drive much over there.
INTERVIEWER: You just sat around.
CHESTER: We went to a lot of places and farms though.
INTERVIEWER: Well, you enjoyed that. Did you learn anything?
CHESTER: I reckon I learned a little bit. It was different anyway.
INTERVIEWER: Were there any airplanes at your base? Was it a naval base?
CHESTER: Yes, it was a naval base.
3rd INTERVIEWER: When you were stationed in England, how were the English people? Were they friendly, not friendly? How did they get along with the GI's?
CHESTER: I reckon we got along. I don't think they were too friendly.
2nd INTERVIEWER: They must have been a right many of them friendly because they brought home English wives.
INTERVIEWER: They sure did.
2nd INTERVIEWER: When the war was over they came over and one of them married a girl from Wales, wasn't it, or from Scotland? There was a couple of them that married Scottish girls.
INTERVIEWER: Did they come back here somewhere?
2nd INTERVIEWER: They came back here. We had reunions for them since about 1975 until most of our troops passed away. Then we don't have anybody to help us do it anymore.
CHESTER: Had about fifteen or twenty boys come to the Cerro Gordo and then they come out to the house and we fed them out there.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I'm going to read about that. That was in the paper. Now, does your old army outfit still have reunions?
CHESTER: Yes sir.
INTERVIEWER: Have you ever been to see any of them?
CHESTER: No, I've never been. They always come here.
3rd INTERVIEWER: What about the French people when you were living in France? Were they friendly? Any experience?
CHESTER: Well, they were friendly. But, I didn't do much business.
3rd INTERVIEWER: You don't speak much French. And, neither do I.
INTERVIEWER: When you were stationed in France, was it near a small town or a big city? Could you go into town?
CHESTER: We went into town everyday, every weekend anyway. We were right in town. Akins, that's the name of the town.
INTERVIEWER: Was the air base built by the French, the Germans, or the American?
CHESTER: The Americans. We would run our own business.
INTERVIEWER: So, you were one of the first ones there.
CHESTER: Well, pretty close.
INTERVIEWER: The P51's, did they fly everyday?
CHESTER: Everyday that the weather was fit. Some days it wasn't fitting.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of building did you live in when you were in France?
CHESTER: We were in a...
INTERVIEWER: A round top building? A Quonset hut?
CHESTER: Yeah, a Quonset hut.
INTERVIEWER: And, how did you heat it?
CHESTER: I reckon, there was a stove. That's what we done when we were over in England, for the first two or three days. We used them heaters and we'd burn everything we could get.
INTERVIEWER: But, you still got cold?
INTERVIEWER: Well now, in France, did you have your mess hall there with you?
CHESTER: Yeah, we had everything.
INTERVIEWER: So, you ate pretty good in France. You never had to eat C rations or K rations?
CHESTER: No, we ate good while we were there. They kept us eating.
3rd INTERVIEWER: What was your rank when you were discharged?
CHESTER: I was just a corporal.
3rd INTERVIEWER: Well, in those days a corporal was a mighty important rank.
INTERVIEWER: You saw a lot of bomb damage in France and in England?
CHESTER: Yes. There was a lot of damage.
3rd INTERVIEWER: Did you see or hear any of those rocket bombs that the Germans were....
CHESTER: Yes sir. We saw them every night. As long as they were going by you, you knew you were all right. You knew it was coming down somewhere.
INTERVIEWER: You knew it was coming down. What did you all do? You didn't have much time to tell you.
CHESTER: They kept us in the foxhole about a week or ten days or something like that but we got tired of that. We listened but we were lucky there was never no trouble on us.
INTERVIEWER: You never had one fall on you in England at all? And, you said as long as you could hear that thing running you knew you were all right.
CHESTER: We knew we were fine.
INTERVIEWER: But, none of them ever hit your air base at all?
CHESTER: No, some hit a little ways from it.
2nd INTERVIEWER: I think he said one hit a train one time.
INTERVIEWER: Well, did you get to travel around France much on the trains?
CHESTER: Yeah, we traveled a lot then. We went everywhere. We went to old farms and there was about ten or twelve of us and they'd take us everywhere.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever get to go to Switzerland or Italy or any place like that?
CHESTER: No, I didn't go to Switzerland. I wish I had gone but I didn't ever go there.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go to London?
CHESTER: Yeah, we went there about every week. We went about every week end, we'd go through there.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go on the train or did you have a bus?
CHESTER: We took a bus, not a bus, but a truck. They were good to us.
INTERVIEWER: They gave you something to do when you weren't working.
CHESTER: Yeah, they gave us something to do. We didn't stay around.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever see anybody you knew from home over there?
CHESTER: No. I didn't see anyone. As far as I knew everybody was, well, Sam Godwin, he lived at Pine Level. Me and him were good friends and we were that way in the states when we were old.
INTERVIEWER: So, you went overseas with the people you were with over here.
CHESTER: There were about 200 of us. We stayed together all of time.
INTERVIEWER: You got to know him pretty good.
CHESTER: Yes, I enjoyed it.
2nd INTERVIEWER: And, he's got one good friend in Greensboro.
CHESTER: Do they still come to see you?
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, they still come.
3rd INTERVIEWER: As you think back on it, what was one of the worst times that you ever had? And, then I'm going to ask you what was one of the best times? But, what was one of the worst times?
CHESTER: I don't know.
INTERVIEWER: You had to sleep in that foxhole a long time. That was bad.
CHESTER: We didn't stay there. As soon as that plane went over we was out of that thing.
3rd INTERVIEWER: What about one of the best times?
CHESTER: I don't know what it was.
INTERVIEWER: When did you leave to come home? Do you remember the month and the year?
CHESTER: It was March of '46. It was the last of March, I think.
INTERVIEWER: And, where did you come to, New York again?
CHESTER: We came back to New York. Then, they sent us back to Fort Bladen.
INTERVIEWER: And, then you got discharged? Did they want you to sign up again?
CHESTER: Yeah, yeah, they always want you to sign up and I wouldn't sign up.
2nd INTERVIEWER: Didn't you go to Belfast, Ireland while you were there?
CHESTER: Yes, we went to Ireland. We'd go over there a month or so. We got along pretty good.
INTERVIEWER: And, the people treated you all right?
3rd INTERVIEWER: Okay. The last question for me anyway, what did you learn from all of that time in the army and traveling around and meeting different people? What was it worth?
CHESTER: What was what worth?
3rd INTERVIEWER: What did you learn from all of that?
CHESTER: Well, I don't know just how to tell you but.......it was good.
INTERVIEWER: Did you learn how to drive a truck or did you know how before you went?
CHESTER: I knew how before that.
INTERVIEWER: Is that why they made you a truck driver?
CHESTER: Yeah, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: They didn't need farmers did they?
CHESTER: No, they didn't need no farmers. But, I reckon they were just.....
2nd INTERVIEWER: Did you learn what kind of food they liked?
CHESTER: I don't know how to tell you.
INTERVIEWER: Did you eat a lot of food from the British people in their restaurants?
CHESTER: Yeah, we ate right smart. We'd go out at night and they ate a lot of steak, more steak than most anything else. For a while they didn't have no steak, they didn't have nothing but rabbit but we got over that.
3rd INTERVIEWER: Would you do it again Mr. Stevens?
CHESTER: I reckon I would. But, I don't reckon I would. Of course, it was all right.
INTERVIEWER: Well, when you were in England during the war, you saw a lot of airplanes that got shot up in France. Did you ever see any of them crash when they were landing?
CHESTER: I saw them crash when they were coming in a lot of times.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have anything to do with that? Did you have to haul off the wreckage?
CHESTER: I didn't do that. They had regular trucks for that.
2nd INTERVIEWER: Did you service the planes with gas and all that? Did you help put the gas in on the planes?
CHESTER: Yeah, all the time. We serviced a lot of planes a lot of times.
INTERVIEWER: And, you put gas in them and ammunition?
CHESTER: No, we didn't have nothing to do with that but, we put gas in them.
INTERVIEWER: You had to crawl up on the wing to do that?
INTERVIEWER: And, you had to drive the gas truck?
CHESTER: Yeah, we done some all of it. We rode the perimeter bus that went around and around, around and around.
INTERVIEWER: Around the airfield? And, you had to drive that on guard duty?
CHESTER: Yeah, a lot of times. It was pretty good.
INTERVIEWER: When you were stationed over here at Keesler? Did you get to come home much?
CHESTER: Not too much, I came home one time didn't I? Now after I come home to Charleston I'd come home every week.
INTERVIEWER: How did you travel, on the bus?
CHESTER: No, I drove my car. Yeah, it was a '44 and I drove it. I took it down there for about five or six months.
INTERVIEWER: And, you were stationed in a big air base in Charleston and you were a driver there?
2nd INTERVIEWER: Tell them what you drived in. Tell them what you drived your superiors with to come home in.
CHESTER: I don't know whose gas it was, but, they filled it up and we come home. They come home every week.
INTERVIEWER: Gas was rationed then. You brought some home with you.
2nd INTERVIEWER: Some of your lieutenants told you one time that if you'd carry them back a country ham they'd let you come home.
CHESTER: Oh, that was in the state of New York.
2nd INTERVIEWER: Oh, I thought that was in Charleston?
CHESTER: No, that was up there. He looked at me and said if I could get cured ham I could come home and I carried him a ham.
3rd INTERVIEWER: Thank you Mr. Stevens. That was a great interview, thank you.
CHESTER: Yes, sir.
INTERVIEWER: You had a good life.