Veteran Profile: Charlie Humphrey
Madison, Ind.’s Humphrey
served aboard LST 781
He saw action in the Battle of Okinawa –
which he calls his ‘worst day’ of the war
(August 2015) – Charles Humphrey is a man of many talents. He is a devoted husband of 68 years, a loving father to two daughters, a musician, songwriter, guitar teacher – but before all of that, at the young age of 18, he became a naval crew member on the LST 781, which earned one Battle Star for its service in World War II.
The LST 781 was involved in the Battle of Okinawa, the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific during World War II. It lasted three months. During the battle, 36 American ships sank and 4,903 American sailors died.
Photo by Nina Alcorn
Charlie Humphrey poses with a model of a Landing Ship Tank (LST) on which he served during World War II.
Humphrey, of Madison, Ind., ran the twin 40-mm gun on the front of the ship. A tour of Humphrey’s basement is a trip back into the history of the LST 781. It dawns model ships of the LST, which Humphrey has constructed from memory, paraphernalia from the war and photos of the 126-member crew, with only five surviving today.
In 1944, Humphrey was working on a post-graduate course when he decided to volunteer for the draft. “I had nothing else to do,” said Humphrey, giggling. He started out heading for the U.S. Marines. “I’m only 5-foot-4 and a hundred and something-odd pounds at that time, and they had an ‘M’ on my belly. I was too small to be a Marine,” said Humphrey.
By chance, there happened to be a woman named Josie Ashley, also from Madison, working that day. She was able to use a piece of chalk to manipulate his “M” to an “N.” As a result, Humphrey was headed for the U.S. Navy.
Humphrey began his training on the LST at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. After arriving, he was faced with the reality of the attacks of Dec. 7, 1941. He saw the Battleship Arizona, which had been sunk by the Japanese, along with three LSTs with their bows sticking out of the water. “My feelings were pretty well hurt when I saw this,” Humphrey recalled in a written memoir of his time on the LST.
After leaving Pearl Harbor, the LST arrived in Saipan on Jan. 3, 1945. There, the crew experienced its first real air raid attack.
However, Humphrey remembers the worst day being April 6, 1945. On that day, during the Battle of Okinawa, Humphrey’s LST shot down a plane. There had been several planes coming at them, all being taken out by other ships, but this one was coming too low.
“I could see the guy sitting in the cockpit. He was that close,” Humphrey recalled. They hit the plane and it was coming toward the ship, but all of the sudden the plane turned and didn’t hit the ship, but fell on its side.
In the months following the Battle of Okinawa, Humphrey was stationed to several different locations, finally arriving in San Diego, where he worked as a yeoman, or clerical naval officer, until the war was over. Finally, his name came up on the list to go home. He arrived back in Indianapolis in April 1946, one year after that memorable battle in Okinawa, where he was left to find his own way home.
Eventually, Humphrey arrived back in Madison and accepted a job at the Shoe Factory. Settling back into everyday life, he decided to teach himself to play guitar. After an experience in Guam meeting Gene Autry, he promised himself to conquer the guitar upon his return home.
Music, the guitar, and soon songwriting became his closely held passion. He would go on to teach more than 5,000 students to play guitar, produce and record four records, write 12 songs and have two bands – The Debonairs and The Charlie Humphrey Band. Most of his songs were written after a memorable time in his life.
“My daughter says its about my life history,” he said. One of his favorites is a song he wrote after meeting his soon-to-be wife, Geraldine, at a skating rink in November 1947 titled, “Baby, What’ll I do?”
“This I know I prayed for you – don’t have a chance for any romance. Baby, What’ll I do?”
The couple will celebrate 69 years of marriage in November. They have two daughters, four grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Humphrey is still spending his days serving his country as the adjutant for the local American Legion. He also continues his music – playing, writing and singing, especially with his friend Tom Stewart, a Vietnam Veteran. Music has defined his life and his experiences, and he has no plans of slowing down, especially with his 90th birthday coming up in January.
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