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World War II veteran invited to D-Day commemorations in France

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Charles Baldwin, World War II veteran, gives a thumbs-up from the cockpit of an AT-6, the same plane he trained in as a pilot, after being given an opportunity to take to the skies again in February at the age of 102. (Photo Courtesy CBS News Texas)

By MARY ELIZABETH DAVIS
Lamesa Press-Reporter

World War II (WWII) pilot Lt. Colonel Charles Baldwin never took part of the Allied invasion of Normandy in northern France on June 6, 1944, a date remembered as D-Day. Instead, he and his crew flew 51 bombing missions over Germany during the war.

He and over 60 other American WWII veterans will see where Allied forces fought and died when they visit the D-Day beaches [this week]. They will attend ceremonies in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion to successfully push back German forces from Nazi occupied France.

Eight decades ago, 160,000 American, Canadian and British troops landed on stretches of French beaches that now carry the names of Utah, Omaha, Juno, Sword and Gold. Dubbed Operation Overlord, the invasion was the largest amphibious assault ever attempted. The battle for Normandy didn’t end until more than two months after the invasion.

An estimated 10,000 of Allied troops died in the conflict. Over 2,000 were Americans.

(Photo Courtesy Baldwin Family)

“Well, I have mixed emotions about it. I’m excited about it doing it, alright,” said Baldwin, a former Lamesa resident now living in Granbury, about the upcoming trip. “It will be pretty tiring, I expect.

“The participants have to have the doctor’s okay to do that. My doctor said I can handle it alright. I am excited about it.”

Those who served during the war are now in their 90s or older. Baldwin is 102.
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics’ website, only 119,550 of the 16.4 million Americans who served during the war were alive last year.

Baldwin has never seen the Normandy beaches. He visited the French Riviera on R&R (military slang for rest and recuperation) for about a week after the country was liberated and while his unit was based in Germany.

“When I first got to Europe, it was after D-Day and we went over on ship to start with,” Baldwin said when he was first stationed in Europe during the war. “When we landed in Scotland, they took us by rail to England to a replacement depot where we remained for sometime for about a week. Then we were assigned to different units. I was assigned to a unit in Belgium.”

The upcoming trip’s itinerary, organized by American Airlines, is a long one – especially for aging veterans who are permitted to bring one “guardian” with them and that includes medical staff.

Baldwin will have his youngest son, J.R. “Russ” Baldwin of Anchorage, Alaska, accompanying him, said his daughter, Judy Brooks, a 1968 Lamesa High School graduate.

“Dad’s great about it. It really helps him knowing that a whole team is going – doctors, nurses, big support group – as well as each veteran having a guardian. They will have a plane just for this group,” Brooks said about the upcoming trip.
“I feel great about it. He is sharp and amazing. He beats me in Wordle all the time. It’s a New York Times game my kids got me into it. I got him to do it and he prides himself in that he beats me most of the time. He’s very sharp.”

Baldwin and other veterans will experience a few days of sight-seeing before the D-Day ceremonies. They will arrive in Paris, take a tour of France’s capital city, see the Eiffel Tower and cruise down the Seine River. They could participate in laying a wreath at the American Cemetery in Paris June 3 before traveling to Normandy where they will stay in Caen, a town liberated by the British from Nazi occupation, for the next four days.

They are expected to visit both Utah and Omaha beaches, St. Mere Eglise, where U.S. paratroopers landed before dawn; and Pointe du Hoc, a 110-foot cliff overlooking the English Channel that was the location of a series of German bunkers and machine gun posts.

Veterans will attend the 80th anniversary ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery June 6. Senior Department of Defense officials, foreign dignitaries and the U.S. president are expected to attend, according to an American Airlines’ list of events.

Baldwin will depart from Paris the following day to begin the long trip back to Granbury.

Baldwin’s opportunity to return to Europe began when Joshua L. Holm, a paraplegic war veteran wounded in Iraq, the grandson of a WWII veteran and founder of the Steel Hope Foundation, submitted Baldwin’s name as a possible candidate for the trip.

“He’s working to help veterans in various ways. He was in contact with the project and put my name in the hat, and they accepted me,” Baldwin said.

Holm’s foundation is a platform dedicated to helping others BE STEEL (Believe, Expand, Stand, Transform, Encourage, Enlighten, and Love) all around the world. Through this initiative, Joshua advocates for veterans and those in need, according to Holm’s themanofsteel.com website.

Holms submitted Baldwin’s name to Roll Call, an organization that works in gathering veterans of all eras to keep their history alive. He chose Baldwin in remembrance of his late grandfather, Master Sergeant Carter Holm, who served as U.S. Army 43rd Combat engineer during 1941-1945. Joshua and Baldwin met during an Honoring Hometown Heroes service in Granbury.

“He’s the only name I could think of and he’s the only name I would consider. If there’s 100 people, he would be number one,” Holm said.

Baldwin’s service is now part of the Dal Paso Museum. Former resident Don Garnett donated a historical display documenting Baldwin’s service during the war. There are pictures of him near his plane and photos of him eight decades later.
“To honor Charles,” Garnett said. “He’s been a real good friend of mine for the last 20 years.”

Dale Krebbs of Wichita, Kansas donated the labor and materials to have the wooden framed display made. It is now located in the museum’s room of other veterans’ military past and their uniforms.

Baldwin during his “flying days” in World War II. (Photo Courtesy Baldwin Family)

Baldwin, who moved to Artesia, New Mexico, as a child when the family opened a clothing store there, was in his second year studying geology at the University of New Mexico when he learned about the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. He wanted to go into active service, but he had to wait until they called him.

“I registered then for service in the air corps, but I was not contacted for duty until later. I enlisted in to be an aviation cadet,” Baldwin said. “They didn’t have room for trainees at that time. They did have room later on. They wanted a constant flow of trainees.”

He later left college in preparation for the call, went through civilian pilot training, got his private pilot’s license and helped out as a clerk at the family’s local Baldwin clothing store. The business in Lamesa, opened by his grandfather in the 1920s, closed in the 1980s. He moved back to Lamesa when the Baldwin store in Artesia, New Mexico, closed in the 1960s. He retired from the family business in 1987 in Lamesa.

“It was a little embarrassing to have to wait because here I am and guys my age were already gone to service. Why aren’t you in military service? I had to explain all that. When I got the call, I only got a few hours to get ready,” Baldwin said.

The call finally arrived in January 1943. He was commissioned in March 1944, attached to the 36th Fighters Group, 23rd Fighter Squadron, and flew bombing and strafing missions over Germany in a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter.

“We were based in Belgium. It was close to a small town. We flew out of there into Germany. I guess all of our flights at that point were in Germany,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin was in the hospital battling a case of the flu when his unit participated in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign to halt the Allied forces march into the Ardennes region between Belgium and Luxembourg in December 1944 – January 1945.

“I didn’t get to fly, but I was back on flying status in time to, you would say, mop up at the Battle of the Bulge,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin was discharged from service in December 1945, but stayed in the reserves until 1982.

He learned about the war’s end after he flew his last mission. After the mission, he went to a stream for a little trout fishing.

“I was walking back to my quarters afterwards and suddenly heard all guns and anti-aircraft fire and noise erupt,” Baldwin said. “I was afraid the enemy had pulled off a last minute attack, but found out it was a celebration that the war in Europe was over. I pulled out my 45 and joined the celebration.”

Baldwin recently had another experience reliving his days in the war. In February, he was able to return to the cockpit – albeit in the back seat – in Dallas to fly again in an AT-6, a plane he trained on before flying the P-47.

“It was exciting. It really was. It pretty much was a high spot,” Baldwin said. “It was one of the high times of my life. That was a big thrill after not having flown in that type of aircraft after many, many years.”

After the war, Baldwin helped his family at the clothing store. He married and raised a family of two sons and a daughter. His first wife, Peggy, died in 2005 after almost 60 years of marriage. He fell in love again. He married Myrna Bogle after they reconnected in Lamesa when he was 89 and she was 78. He moved to Lubbock, but later relocated to Granbury to be near his daughter and son-in-law.

“He has a very positive outlook on life. He really does,” Brooks said.

Charles Baldwin today. (Photo Courtesy Baldwin Family)

Baldwin’s journey took him through Artesia

Charles Baldwin surveys the skies during his AT-6 flight in February. (Photo Courtesy CBS News Texas)

By DAILY PRESS STAFF

Chuck Baldwin’s long and storied journey had a flight path through Artesia.

Baldwin moved to the community with his family as a child, graduating from Artesia High School. While waiting to be called to duty during World War II, he helped run the family’s local clothing and shoe store, and he returned to the store following his military service until its closure in the 1960s.

Baldwin is the uncle of longtime Artesia High School athletic director and head football coach Cooper Henderson, who is proud to see his relative have the opportunity to take part in the 80th anniversary of D-Day ceremonies. Henderson was also duly impressed to see his 102-year-old uncle climb into the cockpit of his old training aircraft, the AT-6, in Dallas, Texas, in February.

Baldwin told CBS News Texas it was “just like riding a bike.”

Baldwin’s trip to France to help mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day is being facilitated by American Airlines, which transported more than 60 World War II veterans ranging in age from 96 to 107 first-class to Paris.

NBCDFW reports a group of six Medal of Honor recipients from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam have also been flown to France to help honor the veterans, along with two “Rosie the Riveters” representing the women who kept America’s factories and shipyards running during the war.

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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