Interviewed by Joseph Masi
Masi: Mr. Montambault, can you give me a brief description of where and
J.M. Did you finish Wilby High School?
A.M. No, I didn't. I was drafted before I had a chance to finish.
J.M. When did you first realize there was actually going to be a war? I know you were in high schools at the time.
A.M. No, I was in grammar school when the war first started,
December 7, 1941. I was home. I was 15 years old. So we knew the war was
going on and eventually we would have to join or be drafted, and I was
drafted February 9, 1945.
J.M. Why did you think we were fighting the war?
A.M. Well, we were fighting to keep the world free because Hitler and Japan and Mussolini in Italy, they were trying to take over the world, is what they were trying to do, and we, for our sake and for the people in the whole United States, we felt that it was our duty to go.
J.M. You said you were drafted. What branch did you serve in?
A.M. I served in the infantry. First of all, for basic training I was in Fort Gordon, Georgia and then I went with the 81st Division when they went overseas.
J.M. Give me a brief description of an average day in basic training.
A.M. Well, you got up at 5:30 in the morning. You have your calisthenics, then you had breakfast, then you went through whatever training you had to do either the rifle range or forced marches, and I had jungle and ranger training.
J.M. Would you tell me a bit about jungle and ranger training?
A.M. Well, when we did that we knew we were going to go to the South Pacific because it's all jungles and it's not like in Europe where they have all the terrain, we had to go in the beaches and everything. But it was good training because it builds up the men. It was hard. We had 12, 14 hour basic training every day sometimes to get us in training because they knew the South Pacific was going to last so they were pushing us right along.
J.M. When were you shipped overseas?
A.M. In May of '45.
J.M. So you were in basic training for . . . ?
A.M. From February to May.
J.M. Two months?
A.M. Three months.
J.M. What was your reaction when you heard about your deployment?
A.M. Oh, it never bothered me. I fought for my country. That's what I was there for. I was always a great believer in the United States of America and I still am today.
J.M. What company did you serve with? You said the 81st?
A.M. 81st Infantry Division CO. I, 322 Infantry Regiment.
J.M. Is that 81st Ranger Division?
A.M. No, it was an infantry division but you have rangers in different divisions. They do the actual advance work and everything else.
J.M. What rank did you hold in the service?
A.M. Technician 5th Grade, equivalent to a corporal. It's a corporal stripe with a "T" underneath.
J.M. Did you serve in combat?
A.M. Actually it wasn't real combat. It was skirmishes that we had. I went to the Philippines, Leyte, in the Philippines and we had to go out and clean put the jungles a little bit. It wasn't much but they were shooting at us.
J.M. You landed in the Philippines.
A.M. In the Philippines and then we had to clean out the pockets that were left.
J.M. This was after MacArthur went back into the Philippines.
A.M. Oh yeah, it was after. He went in earlier at the end of '44, I believe it was. I wasn't even in the service then.
J.M. What were your emotions during the skirmishes?
A.M. We were always scared. Everybody is scared when somebody's shooting at you, but we were there to clean it out and make sure that nobody else gets hurt.
J.M. What were your reactions towards the Japanese troops as far as do you think they were equivalent to you as far as a fighting force?
A.M. Oh, they were because that's what they were trained all their lives. They were onto death because they would put their hands up to surrender and they would come in and the guy in the front would fall down, there was a machine gun strapped to his back. You could never trust them. That's something we learned even when I was in Japan later on. You can't trust them.
J.M. They would have their hands up?
A.M. Up and then the front one would drop down, he had a machine gun strapped on him and they were shooting at the boys.
J.M. Wow. The skirmishes were hit and run?
A.M. For them, yep. Or they'd be up in the coconut trees or the banana trees shooting down at us until somebody shot the whole tree up and killed them. But they were [unclear] about the casualties even then.
J.M. A lot of casualties?
J.M. Were you injured in combat?
A.M. No, I was never injured. Lucky, I guess.
J.M. How did you deal with the climate of the Philippines?
A.M. Oh, the Philippines was something. 115 to 120 degrees almost everyday. It rained four or five times a day. Showers.
J.M. You were there during the rainy season?
A.M. Oh yeah, the rainy season.
J.M. The monsoon season?
A.M. Yes. Four, five times a day, but it was comforting. The rain would cool us off a little bit. 120 degrees is hot.
J.M. When you slept, did you sleep in barracks?
A.M. No, we had tents. There were only tents in them days. There was nothing permanent.
J.M. What was the morale of the company during your campaigns because obviously you went out to the jungle for how many days at a time?
A.M. Two, three days at a time. We rotated people.
J.M. How many people were in your patrol?
A.M. Just a company, which is 120 men.
J.M. Now, you said that after the Philippines you went where?
A.M. We went to Japan. When General MacArthur was signing the peace in Tokyo Bay we were moving in, in the northern part of the main island, the Port of Aomori. Each division had a different place to land. The 11th Airborne, the 1st Cavalry, the 25th Division they were all scattered. We came in all at one time. Nobody knew what to expect.
J.M. At the ending of the war, what were your reactions?
A.M. Oh, when the war ended we were happy. We knew because our division was slated to go into the invasion of Japan in November of 1945.
J.M. Before we go on to what you did after the war, dropping of the bombs, obviously being slated to go in, your emotions are different from other people.
A.M. We didn't know anything about it. It was just reported to us that they dropped an atomic bomb. Nobody knew what an atomic bomb was because nobody had ever told us that. And then we heard the rumors how many casualties there were then we said, "This is going to help us end the war and we won't have to do the invasion."
J.M. And sure enough it did.
A.M. It did. It did. Without that we would have has to invade Japan and their probably would have been a million casualties the first day.
J.M. That would have been projected.
A.M. Oh, that's what was projected.
J.M. So you went into the northern part?
A.M. The northern part of the main island.
J.M. And what did you do there while you were in Japan?
A.M. We only stayed there about four weeks up in the northern part then I moved down to just outside of Tokyo. I was attached to the engineer 353th Construction Battalion and we built the biggest airstrip in Japan. They didn't have an airstrip big enough to take the B-29s. They could get the B-17 and 19s in some of the other airports but the big B-29s which they wanted close by because Russia, they were having problems with them up in the northern part, and we built the airstrip in 9 months.
J.M. You built it in Tokyo?
A.M. Outside of Tokyo. Yokata Air Base is the name of it.
J.M. What was your role in the military for four weeks in the northern part of Japan?
A.M. Just guarding. Actually, it was starting to snow at that time.
J.M. Japanese civilians, how did they perceive you?
J.M. We were surprised they were happy to see us because they would all bow to us every time they'd go by the main gate when we were on guard duty, they would just bow and walk away, and we had no problems whatsoever, and we expected a lot.
J.M. Right. After.
A.M. After. What they were doing with the kamikaze planes dropping on the ship.
J.M. Now, at Yokota Air Base what did you actually do?
A.M. I was a welder. The battalion welder. I did some welding before I went in to the service so they assigned me. Welding machinery, and we built a big cement plant, we built a big rock crushing pant. You need all that stuff the build the airport.
J.M. Is the air base still there today?
A.M. It is. It's still our main air base now in Japan. The headquarters is Tatchicana which is only about 10 miles down the road but that's only a small strip. This is the main air base and still the main air base in Japan.
J.M. You were there until what date?
A.M. September 3, 1946.
J.M. Did you fly back?
A.M. Oh no, I was shipped back.
J.M. Where did you land?
A.M. Seattle, Washington. From Yokohama to Seattle.
J.M. Happy to be home?
A.M. Oh, yes. It was almost two years by the time I got home, by the time I got discharged.
J.M. Tell me a little bit about yourself after the war.
A.M. Well, after the war, after I got home I went to work at Lux Clock as a screw machine setup man.
J.M. And Lux Clock is where?
A.M. Used to be in Waterbury. It's out west now. They did away with it here in Waterbury.
J.M. You went from Seattle directly back here?
A.M. Back here, yes.
J.M. You didn't stay in Seattle at all?
A.M. No, no. We were there only four, five days and then they put is on the train and shipped us home.
J.M. You said you were working with the clock company.
A.M. I only worked for them for two years and then I had a chance to serve an apprenticeship tool making and I went to Eyelet Specialty. I worked there for six years. I was an Eyelet toolmaker for 44 years until I retired. Different places. Seventeen years is the longest I stated anywhere and that as at the Risdon Corporation. And I've been active in the VFW 49 years.
J.M. Well, actually Mr. Clemente was talking about it. Were you one of the people that helped organize it?
A.M. Oh yeah.
J.M. What was your role?
A.M. Well, I was Commander here in 1955-56 of the post. I was State Commander in 1962-63, and I've been on committees, national committees for two years, and I'm still active to this day. That's why I'm here this morning. I'm keeping the books, the fellow that takes care of it is on vacation so I offered to do it for him. I go to all the meetings. I went to the national convention this year in Kansas City. I've been to about nine or ten of then, so I enjoy it.
J.M. How would you assess your experience during the war?
A.M. I thought I did my share as a soldier helping our country win the war and helping keep the peace for the time I was in.
J.M. How do you think today's generation understands the experience of the war?
A.M. I think they're a little slow in reacting. We found it out since the Vietnam War, the vets just don't seem to be interested. We don't have young people in the organization because they don't want to be active. We've had some Commanders here that were Vietnam veterans, since then we haven't had any as far as officers are concerned. We have a lot of Second World War veterans here and we're losing one right after the other.
J.M. What do you think the war's place is in history? How will it be viewed a hundred years from now?
A.M. I think the Second World War was the war that really saved the whole world. The other ones have been small skirmishes, actually. Small wars like Korea where there's only one spot. The Second World War was all over the world. I feel that the United States and all the people that were in the services did their share of the work and even the Vietnam War, they've done their share.
J.M. You think that's how it should be remembered?
A.M. Oh yes, I would think so. Yes. You take Bosnia where they have all the problems. That's been going on for four, five hundred years and it'll still be going on even though it's settled for a while now, these people have it in their minds that they're not equal where in the United States we try to help each and every country. As you know, we're spread all over the world right now.
J.M. Do you feel that we're spread out all over the world so a war as big as World War II would happen again?
A.M. It won't happen again. If you can keep the skirmishes locally, it shouldn't. The only one right now that's powerful enough to engage us, but I don't think they would, is China. Russia is no longer a power. They have enough problems of their own. They have no money. We support a lot of their products.
J.M. You said you were in Camp Gordon in Georgia, how did you arrive to the Philippines?
A.M. We went by train from Georgia all the way to San Francisco. Camp Stoneham was where the debarkation port was and from there we went on a liberty ship from the United Sates to Leyte in the Philippines. That took 34 days.
J.M. Did you stop in Hawaii?
A.M. No, no, we bypassed Hawaii. The only port we stopped in is a small port in the Carolina islands. That's where the naval base was and we stopped over for refueling. And you look up around there, we had 11 battleships sitting there at one time. They were all on their way to Okinawa to start the processing for the invasion of Japan.
J.M. Life on the boat, 34 days?
A.M. It was a log, long trip. The boat was a small boat. We only had maybe 800 men on it and it was cramped quarters. Nothing to see but water.
J.M. Activities on the boat?
A.M. None whatsoever. We had no room to do it. That's all it was, was a transport. They transported us so we had the bunks and sometimes we'd go up above, but no games, nothing to do.
J.M. Did you pass the time playing cards or anything?
A.M. Sometimes if you had the room. Half of the time you had to go up above in the decks to play cards because it was so crowded down below. It was one bunk right after another, that's all it was.
J.M. Did you read?
A.M. Oh, yeah, we read whatever books we could get ahold of.
J.M. So basically you spent plenty of time with your thoughts.
A.M. Thoughts and talking to people. We got to meet a lot of good people- it's the first time we got to see each other because we came from different parts of the country and people I was with in the Waterbury area all went somewhere else, so I never got the chance to talk to them.
J.M. So you made new friends.
A.M. New friends, oh yes. I've made a lot of nice friends over the years.
J.M. Kept in touch?
A.M. Oh yes. Yes.
J.M. Where were they from?
A.M. Scranton, Pennsylvania, three of them from St. Paul, Minnesota. They were all nice people. I met a couple of them a few years back when I was at a convention. It was nice to talk to them. They're not good writers, I'm not, to correspond. Every once in a while we'll call up and talk.
J.M. You arrived, you said, in Leyte, Philippines. I know you talked about the weather before but your reaction as far as San Francisco to Leyte, get off the boat.
A.M. Well, it was all jungles. That's all it was. California was warm in the daytime but cold at night. San Francisco area is noted for being cold, and over there it was 100 to 120 degrees constantly. And then when we left the Philippines to go to Japan we were all in summer uniforms because we didn't need winter clothes. We got up to the northern part of Japan it was 32 degrees. From 120 down to 32, we froze the first week until our clothes caught up to us.