By Sue Moore
“They are running out of us guys,” said Del Charles, who along with Harris Walters of Vicksburg, departed for Washington, D.C. on an Honor Flight in October, during the government shutdown period. The trip was free to the 70 World War II veterans chosen to participate, with several more flights scheduled every month.
Both men agreed it was a real worthwhile trip. “It was something I never would have done myself,” Charles explained. “There are a lot of patriotic people out in this country yet and they kept hugging, kissing and clapping for us everywhere we went; in the airport, at the luncheon at the Plaza Hotel, at the War Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”
When we returned to the Toledo airport, there was even a band, a football team, and people lined up all along the aisles of the airport. “When I got back from Germany in 1946, I took a bus home from Camp Shanks in Pennsylvania and nobody even knew I was coming home,” Charles offered in telling about his service in World War II.
“We each had a ‘guardian’ and were required to have a doctor’s permission to be on the Honor Flight,” Walters explained. The guardians each paid $300 toward their expenses to accompany a veteran. Charles’ guardian was an Ohio resident in his 60s who sent him an album of photographs he took during the course of the 14-hour trip. The veterans were each given an orange vest to identify them, a blue jacket for the chilly air in D.C., and a motorcycle escort throughout the D.C. area, to and from Dulles airport.
“We kept thinking if the people who were held up for us to pass by in the three big buses were wondering just what politician they should blame for holding them up,” Walters chuckled. “A family from Toledo even took time out of their plans to come to our hotel to say thank you, and we were both interviewed about our experiences by Channel 13 in Toledo,” he said.
“We were able to get right into the World War II memorial without any fuss,” according to Walters even though this was the week that the government was shutdown everywhere else in D.C. They did have some of the tour places canceled because of the closure, but not the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was a stirring memory for Charles who said the guards reminded him of robots, so mechanical, except maybe when they would blink their eyes.
Walters, a sergeant, served in New Guinea with the quartermaster’s corps as a truck driver. He had started out as an anti-aircraft gunner and was headed to the Philippines, but the Japanese air force had become so decimated, his role became obsolete. After six months he moved to Leyte and was put busy loading ships that were getting ready to invade Japan. Then the atomic bomb was launched and he was back in the states in 1946.
Harris Walters grew up in Otsego, and after graduation from high school in 1942, got a job at Willow Run to work on the B-29 bomber. “It didn’t seem quite right not to volunteer for the service when everyone else was going,” he said. Upon his return he worked at a little grocery store in Otsego where he had worked summers while in school. He went to Pine Lake vocational as a disabled vet and was hired soon after as their business manager. Walters came to Vicksburg to manage Harding’s grocery store in 1953 and has stayed in Vicksburg ever since. He is co-owner of Vicksburg Auto Wash on Richardson Street.
Del Charles saw heavy duty in France where he was caught behind the lines with his tank crew at St. Lo shortly after the invasion. He was wounded by shrapnel from a mortar and was found under a half-track after he had dragged his driver, who was seriously injured, under it for protection. Charles was air lifted to a hospital in northern England to recuperate. After five weeks, he was shipped back to Paris and fought on through France to Belgium and into Germany. He was a platoon sergeant when in action and returned to the states as a staff sergeant in 1946. He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Originally from Fulton, Charles worked for Al Lewis and Jack Thurman building houses, then went to the Tot Shop in Kalamazoo, and retired from the Upjohn Company as security supervisor in 1985. He now lives at Kline’s Resort.