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World War II veteran: Anderson is Weston Memorial Day parade grand marshal

Al Anderson is this year's Memorial Day parade grand marshal. —Bruce Ando photo

Al Anderson is this year’s Memorial Day parade grand marshal. —Bruce Ando photo

A World War II Army veteran who spent his service in occupied Japan will be the grand marshal of Weston’s Memorial Day parade.

Albert Anderson of Weston, commander of the Georgetown Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 10190, who has participated in many Memorial Day parades over the years, will now be its leader.

He was chosen grand marshal by the Weston Veterans Affairs Committee — Jane Young-Anglim, Betsy Peyreigne, Cathryn Prince, and Moira Relac. “Al Anderson is one of the few World War II vets left in town, so it’s a privilege to have him as the parade’s grand marshal,” Ms. Young-Anglim said.

Mr. Anderson, 85, has lived in Weston since 1953, and was a supervisor at the SNET telephone company in Danbury for 35 years, until he retired. He was the first deputy commissioner of the Georgetown Fire Department and is still active with the department today.

His wife, Arline, died in 2003. He has two grown children, Gary Anderson and Robin Szegdy, and five grandchildren.

Originally from Norwalk, Mr. Anderson said he decided to settle down in Weston 60 years ago because back then it was cheaper to live in Weston than Norwalk.

In 1945, Mr. Anderson was 18 and working as a car mechanic, when he was drafted by the Army for service in World War II.

He initially didn’t want to go into the Army, but he said he soon learned he had no choice. After being welcomed into service at Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Mr. Anderson said, he was given the choice to serve nine months or a year and a half. As an incentive to serve a year and a half, draftees were given a $100 bonus and all you could eat, so Mr. Anderson opted to serve a year and a half.

At Fort Devens, he met Joe Doucette from Andover, Mass. The two served overseas together and became lifelong friends.

World War II

Mr. Anderson’s involvement in World War II came toward the end.

A global war, World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945, and involved the vast majority of the world’s nations.

The war first began in Europe in 1939, when Germany, under Chancellor Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland.

Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany. Germany then launched attacks on Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France.

After the outbreak of the war, the German government ramped up its oppression of Jews, which led to the Holocaust, where Jews were systematically killed as part of the Nazi regime’s “Final Solution.”

In 1940, Germany launched an attack on Britain but was unsuccessful. Italy, a German ally, then invaded Greece and North Africa.

On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Then, on Dec. 7, 1941, warplanes from Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack provoked a declaration of war by the United States on Japan, and three days later the United States declared war on Germany and Italy as well.

Germany had made great headway in the war by occupying a significant portion of France. But in June 1944, British and American forces launched the D-Day invasion, landing in German-occupied France on the coast of Normandy. It was a major turning point in the war, forcing the German army to retreat.

Germany surrendered the war after Hitler’s suicide in May 1945. In August 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just six days later, on Aug. 15, 1945, Japan formally surrendered.

World War II was the deadliest conflict in military history, marked by mass deaths of civilians, including the Holocaust and those killed by the nuclear bombs in Japan. More than 60 million people, 2.5% of the world’s population at the time, were estimated to have been killed in the war.

Occupied Japan

Al Anderson, right, and Joe Doucette, left, became lifelong friends when they were sent by the Army to occupied Japan in 1945.

Al Anderson, right, and Joe Doucette, left, became lifelong friends when they were sent by the Army to occupied Japan in 1945.

After Japan’s surrender in World War II, the country was occupied by the Allied Powers, led by the United States. The occupation was code-named Operation Blacklist.

On Sept. 6, 1945, President Harry Truman approved a document titled “U.S. Initial Post-Surrender Policy for Japan,” which set two main objectives for the occupation: eliminating Japan’s war potential and turning Japan into a Western-style nation with pro-American orientation.

Post-war Japan was chaotic. Air raids on urban centers in many Japanese cities left millions displaced, and there were severe food shortages.

President Truman appointed Gen. Douglas MacArthur as supreme commander for the Allied Powers to supervise the occupation of Japan.

When Gen. MacArthur arrived in Tokyo, he immediately decreed several laws: No Allied personnel were to assault Japanese people. No Allied personnel were to eat the scarce Japanese food. And flying the Hinomaru, or “Rising Sun,” flag was severely restricted.

As part of the 8th Army, Mr. Anderson was one of 350,000 U.S. personnel stationed in Japan to help with the occupation. He was sent to Japan on the USS Admiral Benson, along with about 2,000 other soldiers. “There were so many of us we had to sleep in a big hole on the deck,” he recalled.

Mr. Anderson was sent to Fuchinobe, outside Yokohama. With his substantial mechanical background, he was assigned to teach automotive maintenance to other military personnel so they could maintain military vehicles during the occupation.“It was important for people to learn how to fix things,” Mr. Anderson said.

The automotive maintenance program was an eight-week course with four echelons, ranging from basics, like how to change a tire, to advanced engine repair. Mr. Anderson taught the advanced round of the program.

His students were a mix of Army personnel, marines, and a few Australian soldiers. “The Australians were hellions. They were rowdy and always throwing beer around,” Mr. Anderson recalled.

He did not enjoy his time overseas. Food was restricted to K-rations and the only fruit he recalls being allowed to eat was tangerines.

Back home

After his tour of duty in Japan was completed, he came back to the United States via Seattle. He returned to his car mechanic job and then started working for the phone company.

People were going through hard times. “During the war, the country was in defense mode, so everything made by companies and factories was going to the war,” he said. Rationing was in effect. People were only allowed to buy three gallons of gas a week, butter was restricted, and some people were using kerosene to heat their homes.

“It was a slow comeback,” he said.

One of his first jobs with the phone company was to go home to home and change phones to modern ones with dials. “People didn’t want phones with dials at first,” he said.

But eventually things did get back on track, and Mr. Anderson enjoyed a long career with the phone company.

As part of his service with the VFW, he enjoys going to schools and talking with students about World War II.

“It’s important that we don’t forget the veterans, the guys that didn’t come back and those that came back wounded. People forget about them,” he said.

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