WWII Veteran to Receive High School Diploma
Story by Cathy Haynes / Photo by News-Gazette – Andrew Sullivan
A WWII veteran – Charles F. Waters- will receive his high school diploma on Thursday with the Kissimmee Liberty High School graduates. His name is being withheld until the start of the Commencement ceremony because he is not aware of this event – it is a secret! He has only been told that he is representing his generation at the commencement ceremony. He will be introduced separately and presented with his diploma near the start of the ceremony. Liberty High School JROTC cadets in uniform and Osceola County veterans will be rendering a salute to him. Charles, who is 87 years old and also wheelchair bound due to his military injuries, will then leave the stage area. He will be available for questions and pictures in the hallway while the remainder of the ceremony continues.
About two months ago I received a telephone call from (Charles F. Waters) because he wanted information about the local Honor Flight program for veterans and especially the information about the Welcome Home receptions at the airport. While chatting with him I learned that he did not receive his high school diploma. Unknown by many, the state of Florida has a provision whereby veterans who left high school to serve in the armed forces may be awarded a standard high school diploma. But in this case, I contacted his school system directly first and they were excited to participate and provide a diploma themselves. A note from the current principal was enclosed with the diploma.
Charles F. Waters grew up in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. In 1943, one month before his high school graduation he left for Navy boot camp. He never received his high school diploma. He served as a Naval Armed Guard on cargo ships because the merchant marines were not armed – they were practically sitting ducks on the water. Charles was assigned to the Liberty cargo ship “Lorado Taft” as it travelled down the Atlantic Ocean to cross the Panama Canal. Very few people are aware that Nazi submarines were located along the Atlantic seaboard and hunted shipping targets off the coast of Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico. After crossing the Panama Canal, the “Lorado Taft” sailed for Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.
While unloading some cargo and taking on more, Charles was badly cut on his leg by a cable. The injury required more care than the simple dispensary was able to handle. He was sent to the hospital and suturing of the wound was scheduled for the next morning, requiring him to stay in the hospital overnight. While there, the ship had to leave without him. He later found out that much of the cargo was going to the Army’s 82nd Airborne troops further in the Pacific theatre of action.
He and 100 others were boarded on a ship that was headed to the Key West Naval Base. In Key West, while waiting for reassignments, the New York train system went on strike which forced delays in travel orders up and down the east coast. The men remained in the Florida Keys and Charles F. Waters recalls celebrating V – E Day there – Victory in Europe – on May 8, 1945.
When asked about the wartime shortage of supplies there, he mentioned that there was plenty of fruit and fish available. What they really craved was some beef! One rare time a cattleman from Central Florida sent down a truckload of beef. I asked Charles Waters how the meat was kept cool. He remarked that they were alive and in a very short time the butchers and meat cutters were providing steaks and more steaks, which were served up in short order!
When his Navy enlistment expired and before the end of the war in the Pacific, (Charles F. Waters) enlisted in the Coast Guard. Based from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, his duties were to tend to the navigational buoys Atlantic Weather Patrol monitoring from south of Bermuda up to Iceland – remember, there was no weather radar in those days. He was also able to attend radar school in Groton during his eight years of service in the Coast Guard. His stories also included the radar monitoring of all aircraft traffic – commercial and military – and the awe of seeing his first supersonic jet appear and disappear within a 200 mile range within two minutes on the screen.
When that enlistment expired and with his radar skills Charles was able to enlist in the new US Air Force. His rank was Technical Sergeant and he was a radar crew chief in the Cold War for four years. Wanting to further his skills in Communications, he enlisted in the Army.
His fondest memories are of providing communications for 25 units all over Europe. One time, the leadership of France ordered all of the American missiles out of their country. Charles skill and those with him allowed constant communication while three different convoys were relocating. The back seat area of his jeep was loaded with equipment that received and transmitted coordinating messages while tracking the progress.
Later, after Berlin Crisis with then the Soviet Union, his duties in Germany required monitoring communications along the Russian border. One time, while traveling on a road thought to be open, a small group of their trucks with equipment were blocked by Soviet soldiers. The soldiers wanted to inspect the vehicles. Not wanting to allow valuable equipment to be seen or possibly taken, the group decided to run the blockade. (Charles F. Waters) was driving one of the 10-ton trucks. A Russian soldier shot a front tire which caused the truck to start to turn over. While trying to jump out of it, one of the patch pockets on his pants got caught and he was unable to cleanly escape. The truck landed on his leg and crushed it. Surrounded with machine gun protection from his fellow soldiers, a helicopter was needed to lift the truck and allow the unconscious, Charles F. Waters, to be medically evacuated. Despite fighting with the medical board for a year and a half, they retired him out in 1967 with 100% disabilities.
With over 20 years of service in all branches of the armed forces except for the Marine Corps, very few persons would be as patriotic as Army retired Staff Sergeant (Charles F. Waters)! And there are lots of coincidences – He fought for liberty in WWII, He served aboard Liberty cargo ships, and he is graduating along with Liberty High School students. He and his wife, Ruth, live in Kissimmee with Liberty High School being the closest to their home.
Charles had seven children, of which one has died. Charles F. Waters III (the third) died a year and a half ago. He had dangerous chemical exposure from his Air Force service in Vietnam.
On the same day in the morning – Thursday, May 29 – one of Charles’ great-granddaughters in Tampa will be attending her own commencement ceremonies. Two generations with several decades of time between them will receive their diplomas and the honor of being high school graduates. (At this time, it is unknown if she will be attending this event for her great-grandfather.)
- A WWII veteran will receive his high school diploma on Thursday, May 29 with other Liberty High School graduates.
- Where: Osceola Heritage Park, 1875 Silver Spur Lane, Kissimmee, 34744.
- When: 1pm Commencement ceremony starts. Doors open at 12:15.