Feb. 16, 1918 – April 16, 2016
Albert Heath Chestnut, who kept a secret diary while he was a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II, died Saturday in Canterbury Woods, Amherst, where he had been a resident since 1999. He was 98.
Born in Buffalo, the son of a lumber company owner, he attended School 56 and Nichols School. A graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a degree in mining engineering and joined the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, he worked as a civil engineer at the Morenci copper mines in Arizona until he was called to active duty in the Army in summer 1941.
As an aviation officer in the Army Air Forces, he was sent to the Philippines to work as a mine engineer and was wounded during the first enemy raids on Clark Airfield. Captured on Bataan in April 1942, he survived the Bataan Death March and spent the rest of the war as a Japanese prisoner. Despite the dangers, he kept a secret diary, written in pencil in tiny script on small scraps of paper that he hid in his sock.
He weighed 87 pounds when he was liberated from a prison camp on the Japanese mainland in 1945. He credited the diary with keeping him alive. He donated it to the Buffalo Historical Society.
Following the war, he went to Harvard University on the GI Bill of Rights, earned a master’s degree in business administration in 1948 and returned to Buffalo to work as an engineer at Buffalo Forge. He retired in 1985.
As a camper at Camp Pathfinder in 1930, Mr. Chestnut developed a lifelong passion for canoe trips in the woods of Ontario. He spent more than six decades paddling and portaging throughout Algonquin Provincial Park and achieved his goal of traveling from the headwaters of the six major rivers that begin in the park all the way to the St. Lawrence River.
In 1950, on a trip to Camp Pathfinder, he met his wife of 50 years, the former Helen Brugh. She died in 2005.
He also was an avid stamp collector and enjoyed playing bridge.
Survivors include two daughters, Ann Holden and Mary; two sons, David and James; and two grandchildren.
A private memorial service was held.