A resident ambassador at Somerby of Mount Pleasant is working hard to catalog and recognize the many veterans who call the senior living facility home. Ninety three year-old Charles Welch, a veteran himself has identified 51 fellow veterans, whom he calls neighbors.
He's lived at Somerby in Park West for four years and is working with administrators there to create a Wall of Honor to recognize those veterans. In addition, he's working with activities coordinator Mark Summerville to hold a special ceremony Nov. 10 to recognize the men and women as well.
Welch will be among those recognized that day.
Charles Daniel Welch was a U.S. Navy aviation radioman third class attached to the Fleet Air Wing III.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on Jan. 27, 1943 and was sent to the Naval Training Center in Sampson, New York. He was just 18 years old. He said he always wanted to join the military, having spent his life as a Boy Scout.
He was soon sent off to radio school in Memphis, Tenn. at the Naval Air Technical Training Center. It was then off to take a Gunnery Training Course at the Navy Gunnery School in Hollywood, Fla. He was eventually assigned to Fleet Air Wing III and stationed at the Navy Air Field in Coco Solo Tower, Panama.
"Thank God we were in the Caribbean because boot camp in upstate New York was more than what one would consider cold," he said.
They ended up on PBY 5A, a plane with both pontoons and landing gear. The aircraft could take off and land on water and stay out for extended periods of time - anywhere from five to eight hours. The crew, he said consisted of three ammunition men, radiomen (such as himself), radar men, a pilot and a co-pilot. Some of the aircraft even had sleeping accommodations.
Their main mission was to sink Nazi submarines and to protect the Panama Canal.
"Those submarines would surface at night and raise their coning tower to recharge their batteries and we'd shine a light positioned under our port wing to blind them so they could not use their guns and we'd then detonate a charge that would obliterate the sub," Welch said.
"This was during a time when there was an Army Air Force and the U.S. Air Force became a separate service, inheriting what had been the Army Air Force," he said.
When their duty was finally over the Fleet Air Wing III was transferred to Quonset, RI. to the Navy Shipyard and then on to the Naval Shipyard in Boston. "There were carriers coming in that the Japanese kamikazes practically ruined," Welch said. "I worked on repairing those until I was discharged on Nov. 23, 1945 as an Aviation Radioman Third Class."
The money he earned was sent back home to help his mother Henrietta. His father had died young at the age of just 38. She had four children, (twins) Doris and Doug, and his brother John Henry. "But we all helped her and everything worked out just fine."
Welch is humbled by his service but quite proud of his brother John Henry who was an armed guard on a Navy Merchant Ship that was torpedoed. "He was knocked unconscious but hauled into a lifeboat and onto another boat. They saved his life. He was later sent to the Marines in search of Japanese soldiers and during a mission he was shot in the ankle and hid out all night long. Strangely my mother had a dream about this incident as it was happening."
Welch met his future bride at IBM in the machine record unit. Ann Kushner worked as a punch operator on the night shift. It was her small pink high heels that he noticed first. He commented on them as a way to make that first introduction. He eventually obtained her phone number and a relationship blossomed through football games, dances and such. But in 1949 when they announced they were getting married, the powers that be said they could not continue to work together at the company. Ann left for similar work in the camera film industry while Welch stayed on. As fate would have it, the rules were relaxed six months later to suit the needs of an executive. Ann was later rehired and earned her way to a management position. Ann passed away two years ago. They were married for 65 years.
But Welch is a lover of life and a doting grandfather to Jacqueline, Andrew, Nicole, and Charles, the children of his daughter Dianne and son-in-law Bill; as well as three great-grandchildren. "They're all successful just like my Ann," he said.
He spends his time collecting coins and he has been a member of the Publisher's Clearing House for 45 years. He keeps after "the big one," he said, although he has never won anything. "I enjoy their merchandise and it keeps me active and I love that. I purchase coins from them. And, what is most exciting for me right now is my granddaughter Jacqueline is appearing on the show The Bachelor. If she makes the next cut she will be in the finale shows. So I am proud of her."
And lastly he added, "I love being an ambassador at Somerby and speaking on behalf of our residence and mentoring young folks who come in."