This Virginia veteran survived some of World War II's most dangerous missions. Now he's turning 100.

William Charles.png
Posted at 10:39 AM, Aug 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-03 17:59:12-04

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Like water droplets evaporating in the scorching heat, years can seemingly disappear just as fast. Hampton native William Charles doesn’t know where the time has gone.

"I finished high school in 1941,” Charles said. “That was a long time ago.”

Charlies, who lives at The Chesapeake in Newport News, is turning 100 years old.

“I never thought I would live this long," he admitted.

When you take into consideration what his first job was, Charles was lucky to make it to 20.

Six months after graduating high school, he went off to war.

William Charles
William Charles

”I heard about Pearl Harbor and wondered what was going to happen then,” he said. “I didn’t want to be drafted so I enlisted... I felt I would be doing me a favor and the country a favor too.”

The 18-year-old Charles, who was always fascinated with flight, joined the Army Air Corp and began training.

”The day I soloed was a great day,” he recalled. ”That was a great feeling.”

Two years later, the 2nd Lt. was flying real missions against a real enemy in the Pacific Theatre.

“When you get close to the target yeah. You start seeing the enemy aircraft,” he said. “It was quite frightening sometimes. When you see that fire coming toward you.”

Charlies piloted B-26 Maraders, and A-26 Invaders on dozens of white-knuckle missions barely above the ocean.

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”About ten feet. About ten or 15 feet,” he said.

Some flights were just too close for comfort.

“It was dropping bombs (called) skip bombing,” he said.

Often Charles and his crew would return to base with a plane riddled with bullet holes.

”We never knew when we took off if we were going to get back or not,” he said.

They were fortunate.

Many of Charles’ fellow airmen never returned.

“Oh yeah. I knew quite a few of them,” he said. ”It was a bad feeling knowing your friend was killed in a crash.”

The military would bring Charles home to Virginia after completing his required 25 missions.

“I kind of resented the fact that I could leave and leave them behind,” Charles said about the bittersweet milestone.

After World War II ended in August 1945, Charles attended college, got married, and had two children.

He worked at what was the precursor to NASA and would eventually manage and then own a lumber company.

“I think it has all been good. Never got in too much trouble,” Charles said with a laugh.

As he approached the century mark, Charles wondered where the years went.

“I don’t notice any difference from when I was 80 or 90,” he said.

This veteran is one of the nation’s few WWII bomber pilots who are still living.

William Charles counts his blessings that he survived in the air giving him an opportunity to look back on his life well lived on the ground.

"Oh, I feel I accomplished a little bit,” he said. “I was glad I did. I was glad I was able to serve.”

William Charles and Greg McQuade
William Charles and Greg McQuade

Charles retired in 1990.

He has been living at the Chesapeake in Newport News for six years.

His family is planning a big party when Charles turns 100 years old on August 12.

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