Charles A. DeJonghe was born on Jan. 6, 1923, to Maurice and Angela (Brouckaert) in Detroit. Charles lost his mother when he was only six months old. While carrying her infant son Charles in her arms, Angela tripped, kept her arms around Charles to protect him from the fall, hit the floor and received minor cuts to her arm from the fall. Later, according to the Detroit newspaper, she had died from lockjaw caused by infection and not having a tetanus shot.
While living in Detroit as a child he worked helping his uncle who was a plumber. He loved the trade so much he thought he would enjoy being a plumber when he grew up. Detroit was a great place to grow up, according to DeJonghe. There were plenty of places to hang out and have fun. The city was booming and the auto business was doing well.
When World War II broke out in 1941, everyone's life had a new direction to follow. For DeJonghe, it was time to join the U.S. Navy. He did not want to be drafted and become an Army foot soldier so the Navy was his first choice.
DeJonghe explained all the men his age were ready to go. He figured he would be leaving on Dec. 8, the day after the Hawaiian Islands were attacked, but that wasn't the case.
It took time for our country to figure out what really was going on. New bases had to be built. Qualified people were needed to train these new sailors. It wasn't until about one year later when the government finally had enough organization to take men with no military experience and make fighting sailors out of them.
On Dec. 11, 1942, DeJonghe was off to U.S. Navy boot camp in Endicott, R.I. While in boot camp, the Navy learned DeJonghe had a background in the plumbing field. It was an easy choice to place DeJonghe in a U.S. Navy Seabee battalion. Before he knew it, he was a Seabee, 3rd class shipfitter. By changing his classification he later was moved to the rank of second class. When his training was completed, he was heading to Camp Parks, Calif. While in California, he was attached to the third marine division.
The third Marine division was assigned to the Pacific Theater. Their main duties were to take enemy islands, secure them and turn them over to a Seabee battalion to have them build badly needed airstrips to help bring the bombing ranges to hit Japan's mainland. Here he received orders to the 88th Seabee battalion.
A Seabee has many stories to tell about his war experiences. The Seabees built many control tower hospitals and temporary quarters for the Marines who needed a place to regroup before returning to another island fight.
A Seabee at times was stationed on newly taken enemy islands that only days before were occupied by enemy Japanese soldiers. Many times Seabees carried a hammer, maybe a saw and their M1 rifle.
Many times while Seabees would be working, they would hear rounds whistling by them that came from an enemy Japanese sniper that had been left behind. The life of a Seabee demanded strenuous work along with extra duties like convoy runs riding shotgun and doing their share of perimeter guard, which meant standing guard duty around these newly, at times, enemy infested islands.
DeJonghe had been away from home for nearly four years and had no leave granted.
While in Villa Lucia, an island near Fiji, the base commander ran a lottery which would allow two men from the island a 30-day leave. The second name pulled was Charles DeJonghe.
He was excited to finally come back to the states, but his excitement was short-lived.
Telling his buddies he would be back later, he went to pick up his paperwork for his 30-day leave and found out that after his leave he would be reassigned. He would probably be placed on a ship and stay on sea duty. After hearing this, loving what he was doing and remembering how life was on some ships, he decided that he would turn down this leave.
Not coming back to the states didn't mean that he wasn't keeping up on what was going on back home. When talking about letter writing, a few smiles were seen not only on his face but also his wife Virginia's. When asked why the smiles, Virginia said that her husband was also writing - not to her knowledge - to other girls.
All was going well until her husband put the wrong letter in the wrong envelope. Virginia knew immediately that the letter she received was not intended for her. I asked how could you tell and her reply was the way her husband always ended his letters to her by saying "I'm sending a kiss from every wave I'm sailed."
She stated it was six months before she wrote him again and six months before he realized the mistake he had made.
While on the island of Emirau in August 1944, he had an opportunity to see a USO show put on by Bob Hope, at right, and the USO. The show included Jack Benny, Carol Landis, Larry Addar, Martha Tillman and June Brunre. The USO shows gave the boys something to fight for. The show meant so much to these island fighting heroes.
When the war in the Pacific was over and the world at peace, it was time for this Seabee to come home. Homecoming brought a marriage to DeJonghe and his high school sweetheart Virginia Dengler.
He went to work as a plumber and in 1949 moved to Dunkirk after receiving a call from a relative telling him there was work in Dunkirk. The newlywed couple had a chance to move into a home on 415 Leopard St., that was built by John Dengler, a relative of his wife. After settling into their Dunkirk home, he went to work for W.J. Smith plumbing where he worked for 16 and a half years. He was a master plumber and having construction experience from being a Seabee, DeJonghe was determined to build his own house. In 1951, he told his wife that he wanted to have a nice place for her and to have a good place to bring up his sons. He purchased a lot in Van Buren Bay and completed his dream.
DeJonghe also worked for the village of Pomfret Water Department (Van Buren District). His duties included reading water meters, maintenance, billing and water outages. From 1969 to 1983, he worked for Fredonia State College as a plumber. In 1984 retirement came and now the DeJonghe's spend their winters in Deltona, Fla.
DeJonghe is another local veteran who, when asked to contribute to a story, insisted he had done nothing spectacular enough to have his story told. He is another local veteran who on the second day of the war enlisted not knowing where, when or what his future would bring.
This local veteran, who after arriving in the Pacific Theater and at times only hours after the marines secured the island, was a Seabee.
Some veterans believe they aren't worthy of having their story told, but they were out on bulldozers or with their hammers and some pipe wrenches building new airstrips so our planes that were in harm's way would have a safe haven to land.
These airstrips that eventually led to only being within a few hundred miles of Japan's mainland put tremendous pressure on Japan to surrender.
What does one really have to do to have their story told? The answer is simple, just do what you feel is your duty to your country.
Just enlisting or accepting your draft would be one's duty. When I enlisted I had no idea where the Marine Corps was going to send me and no idea what my job or duties were to be. Listening to Charles DeJonghe and hearing what he had done and where he served really makes me realize how special this Greatest Generation was. They all went, they all did their duty and they returned. They picked up where they left off at and began their lives again.
It is such an honor to sit with these veterans and let them take me back to their war years and hear the stories that only they can tell. Charles DeJonghe walked the walk, did his duty and now he can talk the talk.
If you get the chance to sit down with this hero, just sit back and listen.
Listen to his story and let him take you back to a place and time that he and he alone can only tell.
To him, he feels it unworthy to be told; to others like me it's a hero's story. Charles DeJonghe is our Hero of the Week.