CASSADAGA - The Cassadaga American Legion invited three special veterans to their take-a-veteran-to- lunch program. The three brothers - Norm Waterman, Burton Waterman and Ken Waterman - grew up in Cassadaga and are aged 91, 87, and 83, respectively. What the three have in common is military service.
The details of military service were different for each brother. Norm and Burton are World War II veterans. Norm was a Navy man assigned to a tanker which refueled ships in the Pacific. Burton served with the US Army during the war and was assigned to Europe. Ken was a Korean War era veteran and served with the Air Force in Japan during the time that country was occupied by the United States.
During lunch, Scott Kauffman from the Legion talked to each brother, and took notes. Each brother provided the kind of detail not often found in general history books.
OBSERVER Photos by Diane R. Chodan
Left to right, the Waterman brothers of Cassadaga — Burton, Ken, and Norm — recently enjoy lunch at the Cassadaga American Legion.
Norm was in the Navy for two years. He was trained in Norfolk, Virginia on radar. Norm explained that there are several different kinds of radar and different models of each kind. He was assigned to a tanker called the Salamonie, named after a river in Florida. Norm said tankers were often named for rivers.
Primarily, the tanker's cargo was diesel fuel. In the Philippines the tanker refueled PT boats. The tanker also went up and down the coat of New Guinea. He said, "There were no big cities. We just looked for a place to anchor."
The ship was equipped with four to five inch guns and Norm said, "We had good gunners on the ship." He explained that ordinarily the ship traveled on its own but they had escorts "if we went in waters considered dangerous." In the Philippines they did travel in convoys containing tankers, cruisers and destroyers.
Norm was a radar operator on the ship.
"It was interesting. I kind of enjoyed it," he said.
Burton served in the U.S. Army in the 91st Division under Commanding General Mark Clark. Burton along with about 12 others was sent to capture a church on the top of a mountain in Italy.
Burton said, "Machine guns opened up fire and two men were wounded. We got up to the church and captured three German soldiers."
However, the Germans sent in a tank and his group was taken prisoner. Burton was sent to Germany on a railroad boxcar through the Brenner Pass. He was a prisoner for six and a half months.
He noted, "Some of the guards were very nice fellows. They were unable to serve active duties. They did not want to be shipped to the Russian front."
In today's world of instant communication, it is interesting to realize that Burton said he only got three letters from home while in Europe.
As the war progressed to an end in Europe, Burton was sent further into Germany. He was liberated on May 1, 1945. He was sent back to the United States on a "Liberty Ship" that took 13 days to get to the United States. The Army sent him to Lake Placid, where he served a month temporary duty recuperating. He then was reassigned to Pickett, Va., to finish out his service until his discharge in Novmber 1945.
Ken enlisted in the Air Force in September 1950. During World War II, the Air Force had not been a separate branch of the military and though it became independent in 1947, it still was in a period of transition. Ken noted that he wore "part of the old Army uniform and civilian shoes."
Ken was a radar mechanic. He served in Misawa, Japan. He said it "was a real small town north of where the tsunami recently hit."
He was surprised that the "Japanese people treated us very well," but noted that U.S. personnel were armed. At first, they carried a Carbine and later what military men know as a "grease gun" (a submachine gun so called because of its resemblance to a mechanic's grease gun).
Ken did not see much of Japan, but he and some others did get a three-day pass and climbed Mount Fuji.
Ken later installed what was called the Early Warning System on bases in New Jersey, Maine and Indiana.
The men had lives after service and are now all retired in Cassadaga.
Burt's son Bob served in the military. Larry, Norm's son, was a career military man with the Air Force. His sons, Ken and Burt, are with the Navy.
While the Waterman family does not favor one particular branch of the military, it nevertheless has a strong tradition of service.
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