Gardner’s heroism didn’t stop with WWII

By DEMETRIUS THOMPSON,

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of conducting one of my favorite interviews of my journalistic career when I sat down to talk to retired Staff Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Gardner of Union after he was honored by the Friends of Mississippi Veterans at the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Newton.

Although he uses a cane to walk, Gardner has the sharpest memory of any 96-year-old I have every met and remembered several details from his deployment in the Pacific during World War II to his first few dates with his wife of 72 years, Mildred.

Gardner is only one of several WW II veterans in our area and I’m glad that I got the chance to retell his story in this edition. Not only did Gardner do his part to help win the war against Japan in the Pacific, but he also led the effort to recover seven of his fallen comrades from the wreckage of a crashed bomber in what is now the modern island nation of Vanuatu.

The process was long and took nearly four years, but with the help of his daughter, Nancy, Gardner found relatives of five of the seven crew members who died in the crash so they could test their DNA against the remains that were found. Thanks to his and Nancy’s efforts, the seven men were finally given a proper military burial in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in 2014 and their surviving families were given closure.

While many of the World War II veterans were certainly heroes while fighting tyranny in Europe and the Pacific, we forget sometimes that their heroism didn’t end after the war was won.

They came back and, along with their wives, helped usher the nation into one of best economic periods the U.S. had ever seen. Gardner himself became a businessman and ran Gardner’s Electric Shop for four decades, serving hundreds of Union families.

I commend groups like Friends of Mississippi Veterans who take the time to give thanks to men like Gardner while we still can.

Demetrius can be reached at dthompson@newtoncountyappeal.com.