Chester Thomas Williams
Chester Thomas Williams was born on January 15, 1921, Bud, as he was known, attended Milton School and was a graduate of Rye High School, class of 1941. He married his school sweetheart, Marion O’Hara.
He served with distinction in World War II. Over the course of his four-year tour of duty in the U.S. Navy on PT Boats from 1941 to 1945, he served on PT Boat 108 and PT Boat 106 during the Solomon Islands Campaign.
There, he was involved in nighttime encounters between his unarmored boat and armored, troop-carrying Japanese barges, shore batteries, and aircraft. He was Quartermaster on PT 106 and in the immediate vicinity the night John F. Kennedy and his PT 109 crew were rescued.
Veterans Tales, An Interlude: Solomon Islands, 1943
By Chester Williams
"After the boats came in from the night patrol and picked up their mooring buoys, a makeshift awning was rigged over the bow and the officers went ashore. The crew was left to sleep, write letters, read, play backgammon, do nothing — a long day but not as long as the nights. The squadron was based in Rendova Bay about two miles across open water from Munda, where the Marines were fighting the Japanese for the airfield.
I had noticed the little island when we first came up from Tulogi a month earlier. Our boat was moored alongside of PT107 and a short distance from my little island — at least that’s what I called it. My island was only about 300 or 400 yards long with stately palm trees dancing gracefully in the breeze, a skirt of low-cut underbrush, and a welcoming sandy beach shimmering in the bright sun. It was, to me at least, a glorious sight to behold, a unique island among so many.
After long days with not much to do, I finally took my shirt and shoes off, dove into the blue, glassy water, and swam to the island. There were no coral barriers to the beach, which was warm and soft. The underbrush, where the beach ended, seemed to have been pushed down, and I took several steps onto the island to see how far the collapsed area extended. I didn’t have far to go before I saw a bomb crater practically in the center of the island. Then I remembered. . . .
One afternoon, two weeks before during a condition red, (which was ignored since all the action was always over Munda, and we had nowhere to hide anyway) a Japanese Zero had loomed over the hills and come right at our moorings. He zoomed by — so close we could see the pilot’s mustache — and dropped his bombs. He was in a big hurry, but one of his bombs hit two boats near us, throwing a shower of sawdust over our boat and killing two crew members. One of his bombs caused the crater I was now looking at.
I noticed that, at one end of the crater, the trunk of a palm tree had fallen directly parallel to the crater’s side. That was sort of strange, since it was the only tree out of many that had fallen. As I walked closer, I saw strung along the tree trunk, a beautiful string of cowrie shells with three cat’s eye shells at the end — appearing like a fancy necklace with three hanging pendants attached. I wondered who had put the talisman there and why? Cowrie shells were used by the natives for money, and cat’s eyes represented lots of money! During the three weeks we had been at Rendova, we had not seen any natives nor any signs of them; they were certainly not on Munda where the fighting was going on.
I picked the shells up, put them in my pocket, and swam back to the boat. The next day, the squadron moved up to Bougainville, and then I received the stateside leave. Along with the rest of my gear, I took the shells and two spent bullets that I had found in my locker after a night firefight and started the long trip back to the States. When the leave was up, I left the shells and bullets with my wife and returned to the Solomon Islands.
After the way was over and we had settled down, I planned to do something with the shells. The bullets were lost over time and then the shells went missing as well, two or three at a time until all were gone. I guess, they had just been misplaced.
After all these years, I clearly remember that swim to my fantasy island, and I still wonder who put those shells in a line there and was a spell broken when I disturbed them. Maybe the shells are back on the tree trunk, and even now glittering in the sun and working their magic, doing what they are supposed to do."
After the war, he returned to pursue his education at Ohio Wesleyan from which he received his undergraduate degree, and at Columbia University, where he received his Master’s in Social Work in 1952.
In the course of his long career, he held a number of social service positions, notably, as Associate Director of International Social Service in New York City and Health Consultant for the Westchester Council of Social Agencies.
He was a member of the Westchester County Board of Health, the Westchester Council for the Disabled, and the New York State Recreation and Parks Association, and a consultant for several nursing homes in the area. At the end of his career he was Director of the Westchester Lighthouse for the Blind.
Bud loved his community and was a presence in Rye. He served as founding president of The Friends of Rye Town Park and could often be found playing tennis on the Rye Recreation courts, at the Rye Free Reading Room, and with his wife at Oakland Beach or on Playland Boardwalk.
“His vibrant, engaging nature and friendly demeanor endeared him to all,” said his family.
Chester Thomas Williams died at his home on February 6, 2018. He was 97.
Bud and Marion Williams were married for close to 70 years. She predeceased him. He was survived by his sons, Chester of Sherman, Conn. and Robert of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; his daughter, Victoria Beaver of Brooklyn, N.Y.; six grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and his beloved and longtime caregiver, Georgina.