“My mother, Sadie, was born in Ireland in 1888 and came to the United States when she was 13 years old,” Chet Sinclair said. “She was working as a chambermaid in Quogue when my father, William, met her. He would drive a horse-drawn coach and take people back and forth from the railroad to the boarding house and she was one of the people who used the coach. During one of his trips, a horse stepped on his foot and he actually lost his big toe,” Sinclair added.
Born in 1924 in Hampton Bays, Chet was one of eight children. “I’m the baby of the family,” he said and chuckled, “I’m 94.” Sinclair admitted that his father spoiled him. “We were poor, but we were loved. We didn’t get to go out very often or have very many family trips, but I do remember that we went to the World’s Fair in Queens in 1939.”
He recalled that his father worked very hard to support the family. “He worked as a carpenter, a fisherman, a janitor at the Hampton Bays School, and at the Quogue Life-Saving Station out on Dune Road. He’d have to row out to the station every day to get to work.”
Sinclair attended school in Hampton Bays; his father died while he was a senior. He and his brother Larry went to work to help their mother support the family.
But the world was engulfed in World War II and both he and his brother were drafted. Sinclair was sent to the frontlines as a rifleman in the 357th Infantry Regiment of the 90th Division. He found himself in France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany. Although he sustained permanent injury to his feet and was shot in the hand by a German sniper, he managed to fight in the Battle of Saint Lo in France, the Battle of the Bulge, the Invasion of Normandy, the Battle of Falaise Gap, and others.
During his service, Sinclair recalled when General Patton saved him and others in his outfit. “We were walking on a road and, all of a sudden, a German plane appeared and opened fire in a strafing run. There was nowhere to go, so we jumped into ditches on the side of the road. All of a sudden, General Patton comes down the road in his Jeep. You could see his two ivory-handled pistols on his sides. He was standing up and yelling at us to get out of the ditches and get moving. He was trying to get us to safety. It’s a wonder that he didn’t get hit. We knew him as ‘Old Blood and Guts.’ The guys always said it meant ‘his guts and your blood.’”
A Friend By His Side
Sinclair remembered that the most beautiful place that his outfit stopped to rest was in Reims, France, especially the cathedral there. “It’s the most beautiful church I have ever seen,” he said. “They used to baptize kings and queens there. We slept outside the cathedral on the cobblestone street. Directly across the street was a liquor store. We went in and all they sold was champagne. So, we drank champagne that night.”
There were so many casualties that few friendships had the opportunity to form. However, Sinclair did have one friend by his side for a few months, Domenic Scannapieco. “We were together for six months. We were digging ditches and took a break for a smoke when he was killed right next to me. It was on January 25, 1945. Only four months later the war ended,” he said.
“He is buried in the military cemetery in Luxembourg. It’s the same cemetery that General Patton is buried in. For the past 15 years, I have sent money to France and they purchase flowers for me and put them on Domenic’s grave. They send me photos of the flowers on his grave. I’ve also visited his grave when I have gone on the tours that are set up by the Patton Foundation. I’ve gone back to France and have been welcomed as a guest with parades and honoring ceremonies. I was also given the French Medal of Honor which is the highest medal that they can give to someone who is not French.”
“As part of the Foundation’s tour, there was a reenactment of the crossing of the Moselle,” Sinclair said. “They also treated us to dinner. When we went on the tour in 2015, Helen Patton, General Patton’s granddaughter, hosted a dinner for us at a beautiful restaurant that overlooked the entire city.”
Sinclair told her the story about when Patton had saved him and so many in his outfit. “She was very happy to hear my story and gave me a hug,” he recalled.
Also, “the French people were very welcoming,” Sinclair said. “Many came over to shake my hand and thank me and told me how grateful they were to the veterans who fought to keep them free and safe from the German invasion forces.”
A Decorated Veteran
When World War II ended, Sinclair returned home as a highly decorated veteran and a Purple Heart recipient. He went to work in the Hampton Bays School District as a janitor and bus driver. It gave him the opportunity to go to classes and finish high school. He also worked as a painter. He met his wife, Charlotte, through a friend, and they were married in 1948.
“I bought land on Gravel Road and I put a house on it,” Sinclair said. “I built it myself. My father-in-law did the electrical work. When I had to put the beam in place, I needed help, so I had a union carpenter help me with the beam. He worked half a day and charged me $7.50. Can you imagine? That was what it cost me in labor to build my house!” Soon afterward, Chet and Charlotte had two children, Mark and Brenda.
Shortly after their son Mark was born, Chet started CF Sinclair Fuel. He delivered fuel and provided burner services for his customers, merging with Quogue Fuel in 1988. While Charlotte handled the books, Mark worked with his father and eventually ran the family business with the idea that his father and his partner would semi-retire.
Sadly, Mark passed away when he was 42 years old from brain cancer, according to his sister, Brenda, who is the current president of the Hampton Bays Historical Society. She said her father decided to buy his partner’s share of the business and Quogue Sinclair Fuel, Inc. remains fully family-owned.
Even though he is semi-retired, Chet admits that he still goes into the office. “I don’t really do much when I’m there,” he said with a grin, “but I go in every day. So much for retirement.”
But at 94, Chet is still very active in the community. He is the longest standing member of the American Legion in Hampton Bays and a member of the Lions Club for more than 40 years. Sinclair proudly announced that the Lions’ last 10K/5K run fundraising event raised over $53,000. “I don’t know why people like to run,” he said with a smile. “It’s so hard on the body but people will come from all over to run.”
Chet is also a Master Mason in the Old Town Lodge in Southampton. A philanthropic organization, Chet stated “We raise money and it is donated annually to many local charities, hospitals, and facilities worldwide including the Masonic camp upstate, the Masonic nursing home, and places like the Shriners Children Hospital. All good causes,” he concluded.