NAUGATUCK — U.S. Navy veteran Charles Roland will lead Naugatuck’s annual Memorial Day parade as the grand marshal.
A Naugatuck native, Roland, 89, was born on the Allerton Farm, where his father ran the farm. He attended school in the borough.
“I think it was a very good town to grow up in. I don’t think you’d find much better,” Roland said.
On Sept.10, 1942, at the age of 17, Roland enlisted in the Navy.
Roland said he chose to join the Navy over other branches of the military because he always had a fondness for the nautical system.
Upon joining the Navy, Roland said, he had to learn to do everything the way the Navy wanted it to be done.
“You join the Navy and it’s all-together different. You used to do things on your own, and then you find out you must do them the Navy way. The Navy way, if you do it, might take a little longer, but you will get it done,” Roland said.
Roland climbed the ranks to become a Master at Arms and, ultimately, a Boatswain Mate 2nd Class. One of the biggest changes he had to get used was assuming a supervisory role.
“You were telling older men what to do, and I wasn’t accustomed to that,” Roland said. “We weren’t brought up that way. At home we were brought up that the older person had the reins, and they said what went.”
Roland’s Navy career began at boot camp at Naval Air Station Quonset Point in Quonset Point, R.I.
“We were always surrounded by water. It was a very nice place, but it wasn’t easy,” Roland said.
After boot camp, Roland went to RCA radio school in New York City, N.Y., where he learned Morse Code.
“I enjoyed it. The thing was you’d be going down the street, and you’d here a car go beep, beep, and you’d say there’s ‘I.’ I would think what the heck am I doing, but it was in your head,” Roland said.
When he finished radio school, Roland went to the Naval Operations Base in Londonderry, Northern Ireland and then on to the Amphibious Training Base in Appledore, England.
“That’s where it became harder and stricter,” Roland said.
As part of his training, Roland learned to pilot Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM) boats in preparation for what would ultimately be the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach in Normandy, France.
After completing the amphibious training program Roland continued on to Weymouth and Portland, England for advanced amphibious training.
Roland said the training in Weymouth and Portland was a simulation for the upcoming Normandy invasion.
Roland played an integral part in the invasion, piloting the LCM between the ships and shore, bringing troops to the beach to fight. Roland said he wasn’t counting the number of trips he made back and forth, but he has been told it was about five trips.
Shortly after the invasion he was injured at sea in a ship mooring accident, losing three of his fingers on his left hand. He was sent to Chelsea Naval Hospital in Massachusetts to recover. Roland was in the hospital for approximately six months and on May 15, 1945 he was honorably discharged from the Navy.
After leaving the Navy Roland returned to Naugatuck.
“I went to work at this training center to learn the trade of automotive machinist. Luckily enough, I passed the whole thing,” Roland said.
Shortly afterwards Roland was hired as a millwright mechanic at Uniroyal Synthetic Rubber Plant in Naugatuck. He was elected union president of URW Local 308, serving in that position for many years until his retirement.
Serving the country has become something of a family legacy in Roland’s family.
His older brother Bill Roland was in the Army and his two younger brothers, John Roland and Richard Roland, were in the Army and Navy respectively.
Roland’s sons Richard Roland and Robert Roland followed in their father’s footsteps.
Richard Roland is a Vietnam veteran and served in the Marine Corps. Robert Roland, who is the Naugatuck Public Works superintendent, served 27 years in the Army Reserve and went to Desert Storm in 1990.
Roland’s nephews, Gerhard Roland and Michael Roland, also served in the Army Reserve and Marine Corps respectively.
Chairman of the Naugatuck Veterans Council John DeBisschop said the council has been seeking World War II veterans to serve as grand marshal in the parade since they are getting older.
“We want to acknowledge their service and let the community know what they have done,” DeBisschop said.
While he is honored to serve as the grand marshal in the parade, Roland said he doesn’t want the honor to go just to him.
“I’m very proud of that, but there were others before me that were just as deserving as I, or anyone else. I shouldn’t be the only one getting all the credit,” Roland said.
The parade steps off at 9:15 a.m. Monday on North Main Street. The parade will work its way downtown to Town Hall for a ceremony.