World War II Marine Corps veteran and Purple Heart recipient Charles Bandelier prefers to spend Veterans Day in the quiet of his home on Edgerton Road east of New Haven. He probably won't attend the memorial ceremonies at New Haven Navy Club Ship 245 where he has been a long-time member, but instead watch the remembrances from around the country on television.
Bandelier dropped out of New Haven High School his senior year in November 1942, enlisted in the Marines and then told his parents what he had done. “They weren't particularly happy and it took my dad until the next day, under some pressure from my mother, to sign the release form since I was just 18 years old.
“My good buddy Maynard Anderson, who was a year-and-a-half older than me, joined with me,” Bandelier said. “His parents were even more upset, so he signed his dad's name and I signed his mom's and we were both off to Indianapolis to be sworn in, then shipped directly to San Diego for six weeks of training and then to New Caledonia. We got separated there, and I didn't see him again until we got home.”
From there Bandelier joined up with the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Marines on Guadalcanal. “I was lucky because after just two weeks we were sent to New Zealand to train for the invasion of Tarawa and Saipan.” His luck held through the fighting on Tarawa though there were some close calls. He and 15 other Marines were pinned down behind some logs and were taking heavy fire until the order came to retreat. He and one other lived through the retreat. On another occasion, he and three Marines were dug in behind a pile of dirt when a mortar shell landed in their midst. The explosion severed the legs of both men beside him.
On Saipan, however, he took a bullet in his right upper arm that splintered the bone, put him in the hospital for two months and earned him the Purple Heart. Five years later back home, as a reminder of the war, a small piece of loose bone from the injury worked its way to the surface and had to be removed. The arm still hurts from time to time.
There were some humorous times, too. Like when he got in hot water with his lieutenant for chasing down a local chicken and preparing it for dinner.
“I was discharged in November 1945 and at first I didn't want to talk about my experiences over there,” he said. “But as years went by, I found it easier to tell what happened. Events flash back once in a while, but are getting dimmer. It has been 70 years. In fact,” he added, “this is the first time I've ever agreed to be interviewed.”
As far as the war was concerned, Bandelier said he was “lucky to have come through it alive and, like everyone else, happy to get home. Asked if he had any regrets, he said just two. “First of all, I wish I had waited to enlist after finishing high school. I had been vice president of my freshman and sophomore classes and really enjoyed school. I did, however, receive my diploma at graduation ceremonies at New Haven High School in 2004. The other regret is that I didn't stay in the Marines and get my 20 years.” After a short pause, he glanced across the kitchen table at his wife and said, “but then I wouldn't have met and married Helen.” He actually tried to re-up in 1945 but was turned down because of his war injury.
He and Helen were married July 7, 1947, in Milwaukee, on a vacation trip to visit Marine buddies who convinced them they should get married. So they did… on the spot. The news was not received well by both sets of parents when the couple returned to New Haven.
He did carpentry work after the war, bought a 1948 Ford dump truck and became an independent hauling contractor before spending 20 years with Hardware Wholesalers. “After retiring I became a 'recycler'," he said. “People would drop off old appliances and I would tear out the copper and aluminum and take it to OmniSource. They always gave me top dollar because I always wore my Marine hat.”
In addition to the Navy Club, Bandelier is a member of the American Legion, 40&8, was commandant of the Marine Corps League and former commander of VFW Post 2457.