From Italy to Senegal to The Philippines, 95-year-old Charles Wagamon saw quite a bit during his service in World War II.
Chales Wagamon was born in Lewis, Delaware in 1924, where he lived until 1943, that was until he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was sent to basic training in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.
“I was in college as a pre-med student when I decided to enlist in the Army,” Wagamon said. “I was designated as a medic because of my studies. My basic training was a big waste of time, going to lectures and even working in a hospital with just a semester under my belt. It was like watching a train go by and then becoming the engineer.”
After his basic training, Wagamon was sent to Leesville, Louisiana for more medical instruction. Shortly after, he was put on a train and woke up in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
“My commanding officers decided that we would be going to college at Arkansas A&M,” Wagamon added. “I was supposed to be there for three years, but one day an officer asked if any of us would like to become an aviation cadet. We had to pass a test which would designate us as a bomber, navigator or pilot. I passed the test and decided to leave. My friends thought I was crazy because I would be missing out on all the beautiful girls around.”
After being accepted as an aviation cadet, Wagamon was sent to Texas A&M for a semester of instruction. After the semester, he was sent to San Antonio and required to pass another test and would be removed from the program is he did not.
“If we did not pass the exams, we would be designated for infantry, but luckily I passed,” Wagamon said. “My friend in the same program did not pass the exam and was sent into infantry. Years later, I found out he was serving in Holland when the Germans attacked, kicking off the Battle of the Bulge. He was killed in the battle and his body is still there.”
Following his exams, Wagamon was set to be sent to the European theater, leaving for Italy from Norfolk, Virginia.
“Our journey to Italy took 11 days in the ships across the Atlantic,” Wagamon said. “We were based in Rovereto making reconnaissance runs and watching the Germans using the rail system and collecting intel for the bombers.”
During his time in Italy, Wagamon and his platoon were escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen in their famous P-51 red tails. After serving several months in Italy, bombings were haulted April 26, 1945, as the Allies were negotiating the Axis surrender, with Soviet and American soldiers descending on Berlin. He was also serving in Italy when Benito Mussolini was captured and executed by Italian Partisans.
“When we heard the news that the war in Europe was coming to an end, we were told to prepare to go to Japan,” Wagamon said. “Our commander said that those who flew the fewest missions would be flying our planes home.”
On July 3, Wagamon and his platoon left Rimini, Italy and headed to Naples to take the guns off the plane and save gas, as the planes burned 110 gallons an hour. The first stop for the pilots was Tunisia.
“When we arrived in Tunisia, just across the Mediterranian from Italy, we were told we had to stay on the base. All we could see was goats,” Wagamon added.
The next day, they headed for Marrakech, Morocco, which presented new obstacles. At the time, much of Morocco was controlled by Spain, which was neutral in the war, so allies had to avoid Spanish airspace and circle around the country.
“After we left Marrakech, we flew to Sao Tome and Principe off the coast of Africa, before heading to Senegal,” Wagamon said. “It was so hot there you could see the heat and clouds rising.”
Wagamon and his platoon left Senegal for Las Palmas, a small island off the coast of West Africa, where they could see locals looking from their huts. The next stop was the British controlled Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic on the equator.
“When we got to Ascension, we had to get some of our planes repaired by the British, which luckily did not take too long,” Wagamon added. “Our next stop was the longest haul from Ascension to Natal, Brazil, a seven hour flight. It was raining so hard when we got there.”
The platoon then headed to Belem, Brazil, right on the equator and was so hot that clouds were at 40,000 feet, when a friend of Wagamon suggested they fly to British Guyana.
“That was the worst mistake we made on our trip,” Wagamon said. “The rain was torrential and the heat made it worse, just as the sun was going down. After we left Guyana, we flew to Puerto Rico, before our last flight to Savannah, which took another six hours. As we flew by Florida, an F-6 gunnery range was firing, so we had to go off the coast. In total, from Remini to Savannah, we recorded 53 hours of flying and nine days of travel.”
Upon arrival in Savannah, Wagamon and his platoon were given 30 days off, before they were supposed to be shipped off to The Philippines. During his time off, while living in Brian, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to the Japanese surrender.
“We were still sent to The Philippines, where I served for eight months,” Wagamon added. “There were still Japanese prisoners there and we were working to manage the situation.”
Wagamon stayed in the military until 1947, in order to get his education paid for. He finished his undergraduate degree in pre-med in 1950 at the University of North Texas, while his wife was going to Texas Woman's University. Wagamon would go on to earn a Master’s degree at Eastern New Mexico University while living in Lovington for five years, before moving to Odessa to teach chemistry and physics.
He eventually returned to Texas A&M, earning a PHD in curriculum management, before moving to Huntsville in 1978 to work at the Education Service Center. After retiring from education, Wagamon and his family established a printing business in their garage until the late ‘90’s. He also served as a Walker County judge for over eight years.
He and his wife have five children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and have been married for 76 years.
“It has certainly been an eventful and exciting life,” Wagamon said. “I would not trade it for the world.”