Presented with a valor quilt during a surprise service, Coombs remarked that his service was a bit like a quote from a movie set in World War II.
“The commanding group dragged the officer down … had a little speech that he made and he said, ‘This is a fun war,’” he said.
Coombs spent 21 years in the U.S. Navy and flew floatplanes in the Pacific during WWII.
“I spent [the] first part of the war doing nothing but looking for submarines and flying off on the East Coast. But, then they sent me out to the Pacific and I kept thinking of this character sitting there at this table with all this goodies for him, what a fun war it was,” he said. “I saw some action no question about that, but it was not on the front lines so I wasn’t, well, I don’t know. It was a fun war to me. At least I had a good time.
“... I was out on a cruiser on the South Pacific and we were looking for submarines and anything that activate us, and I did a lot of flying and hours and hours of flying and never saw a submarine. So I don’t know whether I contributed anything to the effort or what, but I had a good time.”
A resident at Felton Manor, Coombs received the quilt and a certificate from Homestead Hospice in partnership with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association’s We Honor Veterans.
“A quilt of valor is not a blanket. It is never a birthday or a Christmas present. People often ask me how much it cost to make a quilt of valor. The fact is a quilt of valor is priceless. It can never be bought. It can never be sold,” Homestead Hospice’s Lisa Crane said during the presentation. “A quilt of valor is a thank you from all of us to you for all you have done for us. I would like for you to know that this quilt brings you a three-part message. First, we honor you for your service — for your willingness to leave all you hold dear and to stand in harm’s way in a time of crisis for all of us. Second, we know that freedom is never free and our quilts are meant to say thank you for your many sacrifices. And finally these quilts offer you comfort.
“When young men left home to fight in the Civil War, most of them took a quilt made by family members and called a comfort quilt. It was all they had for warmth at night and the comfort and the memories of home can bring at times of crisis. For those of us who have never seen combat or been in a war zone, the experience is beyond our capacity to comprehend, but quilts still have the ability to offer a source of both comfort and warmth. We hope when you experience dark memories or need the warmth of a hug you will let this quilt wrap itself around you and provide both.
“Quilters say every quilt tells a story. The story of your quilt began right here in the South by quilters who shared your love of our country. On each quilt there is a label and in each presentation case is a note that will tell you something about this quilt’s beginning. As of today the story of this quilt becomes your story. It is our hope you will keep your quilt of valor with you as a reminder that there are thousands of women and men across this land who know we are forever in your debt and it is our pleasure and privilege to honor you with this quilt of valor.”
For Crane, recognizing veterans and their growing ranks as patients is important.
“As time goes on the population, we’re getting more and more veterans as patients, so we just recognize that — that they have special needs,” she said. “Homestead is partnered with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association and through that organization they have the We Honor Veterans, and so there is a great need for veterans that are willing to volunteer with us. We need all that we can because we’re getting more and more veterans, so that we can hold ceremonies such as this and honor them because, sadly, a lot of veterans they’re never publicly honored. ... It doesn’t necessarily need to be a Homestead Hospice patient. This man is not. It doesn’t matter with us. If they’re a veteran, we’re in.”
The recognition “was a wonderful surprise,” Coombs said.
“I didn’t know anything about this. I appreciated it. Just, I mean, I was just another guy in the war doing a different job and I didn’t know what I was doing to start with,” he said. “... Thinking back on what a good time we had on occasion and that was definitely when we were on liberty somewhere. I spent a lot of time doing nothing, just watching the waves go by and get the ship there at the next wave. It was an innocent time. That’s what I remember. I don’t remember the tough times, but there were some tough times. Enough to give me something to talk about.”
Coombs also is featured in “They Answered The Call” by local author Sal Amico. The book, which focuses on men and women who served in WWII, provides a biography and information on Coombs.
Born in February 1918 in New York City, Coombs said he chose the Navy over working in his hometown.
“I had a choice: going to work in New York City or going into the Navy, so I took the one that sounded more interesting,” he said.
He joined the Navy in 1939, according to “They Answered The Call.” In August 1943, Coombs was sent to a WWI battleship.
“The first ship I was on was the old World War I USS Texas. I got sick and tired of that ship,” he said Friday.
Part of his service was spent flying floatplanes off the Navy ships.
“The fuselage is part like a pontoon or something or other, but anyhow it’s on a float and it’s catapulted off the ship. The ship makes a slick, and if you don’t know what that is, you’ll remember any boat or any boat at all it makes a turn in the water, the rear end of the ship slicks the chop, the small waves and leaves a slick behind it. This plane will come in and land in that slick and be recovered by the ship, hoisted aboard and ready for the next trip,” Coombs explained.
In February 1944, Coombs underwent an operation and was not released before the Texas left, thus missing the invasion of Normandy, the book states. He would go on to serve in the Pacific aboard the Springfield, which was part of the signing ceremony when Japan surrendered.
“In 1962, Charles retired from the Navy with the rank of Commander,” “They Answered The Call” reads. “In addition to receiving the Air Medal, Charles was awarded with campaign ribbons for his service in various theaters of operation.”
After extensive research by the American Legion Carl Boyd Post 42, it was determined that Coombs is believed to be the oldest living veteran in Bartow County.
“Well, we got 460 members in our post. There’s only about 50 that are World War II veterans. That population dwindles every year,” said Post 42 Commander Dale Cockrill. “... Like the World War I veterans, one day there’s going to be a last World War II veteran to pass away, and then it’ll be the Korean group that will be in the spotlight, so to speak. I know of very few World War II veterans because most of them are in nursing homes, assisted living in their house with family members and for the most part they don’t get out and about.”
According to information from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, in 2014 1,034,727 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still alive, but 555 are dying each day.
As for the distinction of being the oldest living veteran, Coombs said, “I lived a long time, I guess. It doesn’t mean a thing to me really.”
If interested in volunteering with the We Honor Veterans program, contact Crane at 678-290-4817 or 1 S. Tennessee St., the old Coca-Cola building in Cartersville, after July 11.