Friday, November 6, 2020

Windham veteran salutes community for honoring his military service

Charlie Melanson of Windham, 89, shows a
photograph of his days serving in the U.S. Navy
aboard the USS Coral Sea as a sailor during the
Korean War. He is at the far left on the top row of
the photo and says he's grateful for continually
being recognized and honored as a veteran by
the community. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE
By Ed Pierce

By his own admission, Navy veteran Charlie Melanson of Windham, 89, has accomplished a great deal in life, but he wants everyone to know that on this Veteran’s Day, he owes a huge debt of gratitude for those who have honored his military service in so many unique ways.

It seems wherever Melanson goes in the community while wearing his USS Sea Coral cap, people have honored him by purchasing his lunch, paying for his tab at Lowe’s or buying his dinner. In the past year he’s been the recipient of an Honor Flight to the nation’s capital and was brought to tears when a group of women stopped at his home and presented him with a handmade “Quilt of Valor” thanking him for his service to the nation.

“There’s just something about that USS Coral Sea hat,” Melanson said. “I don’t put it on to show it off, I put it on because I’m proud of it. I am just looking for a way to say thanks for everything that people have done for me and to let them know I am so grateful for remembering my military service.”

Originally from Massachusetts, Melanson was born in 1931 and was raised in a foster home. He was too young to serve in World War II, but when the chance arose to join the Navy in 1948, he gladly welcomed that opportunity.

“Joining the Navy was like going to heaven,” Melanson said. “The foster home was in was like living in hell and I truly loved being on the water and away from there. I liked the food and didn’t mind the military discipline. It was my freedom from growing up as a foster kid.”

His first assignment was to serve as a crewman on board a Navy destroyer, a rusty World War II-era warship that sailed across the Atlantic Ocean bringing U.S. Marines to Europe. When an opening came up to train for 18 weeks as a refrigeration technician at Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois, Melanson volunteered and after mastering  that skill, he was reassigned to the USS Coral Sea, a Midway class aircraft carrier during the Korean War.

“The USS Coral Sea was so much larger and much more modern than the destroyer I was first on,” Melanson said. “It was such a huge vessel and at that time, the Navy was transitioning from AJ-1 propeller bombers to F7U Cutlass fighter jet aircraft.”

Besides working on refrigeration units and air conditioning systems on the USS Coral Sea, Melanson also helped maintain aircraft catapult systems aboard the aircraft carrier which helped planes take off
and land on it while at sea and he did small engine repair work. 

But when his enlistment was up, he decided it was time to return home.

“I had four years in the Navy and thought it was pretty good, but I was ready for the next step,” Melanson said.

In Massachusetts, he met and married his wife Dale and they moved permanently to Maine in 1952. Settling first in Westbrook and then later in Windham, the couple raised three sons, including one they adopted.

Charlie performed construction work for local companies and eventually founded his own construction firm, Melanson & Son. In 1970, he designed and built a facility on Route 302 in Windham to serve as the company offices for Melanson & Son. It is now the home of the Windham Flower Shop.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer which may have spread to his bones, Melanson has been undergoing treatment this fall and has had trouble getting around. He’s been searching for a way to show his appreciation to the public for remembering his status as a veteran.

“I was at Duck Pond Variety because I love their fried chicken and a man walked up to me and started a conversation with me about his father and his father’s time in the military,” Melanson said. “When I went to pay for my fried chicken, the clerk told me that the man I was talking to had already paid for my meal and had left the store. I was stunned that someone I didn’t know would do that for me.”

On several other occasions, while eating at the IHOP Restaurant with his wife, people noticed his “USS Sea Coral” hat and walked over to ask him about his military service.

“When we asked for the check several times while leaving IHOP, we were told that someone else had paid for our dinner and we don’t even know who it was that did that for us,” Melanson said. “It truly touched our hearts.”

Then there was another time when Melanson went to Lowe’s and was chatting with a man in front of him in the checkout line who was with a small boy.

“By the time I reached the cashier, I was told my purchase had been paid for by the man I was speaking with and his son who had already left the building,” he said.

In April, Melanson was among a group of Maine veterans to be given an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. to tour the memorials there dedicated to American military members and he proudly displays a cherished photograph of him leaving for that trip with his active duty military sponsor.

About three weeks ago, Dale Melanson was at home caring for her husband and answered a knock at the door. It was a group of women asking to speak to her husband.

“They were from the Quilt of Honor Foundation and they presented Charlie with a beautiful handmade quilt with a Navy theme and a certificate honoring his military service,” she said. “He is so pleased with it and I am so touched that they took the time to do that for him.”

As someone who has experienced a lot during his lifetime, Melanson said he tried to hold back tears when he received the quilt, but just couldn’t.

“That was such a nice thing to do, I broke down and cried and cried,” he said. “People are so good to me and that quilt came at just the right time and is so warm and comfortable.”

Melanson said he’s deeply moved by all of the expressions of gratitude that complete strangers have shown him.

“When I got of the Navy at Norfolk, Virginia in 1952, I was just another sailor and people paid me no attention,” he said. “I think the terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001 really woke Americans up and since then it seems more people appreciate what veterans have done and the sacrifices they have made for our country.”   

This Veterans Day, Charlie Melanson has a message he urgently wants to get out to the public.

“For all these people who have done such wonderful things for me and pay for my meals at no charge, I have no way to thank them. I simply want to thank those who have recognized me as a veteran and have gone out of their way to show me kindness. It truly means a lot to me and I feel blessed to be recognized for serving in the Navy in this way.” <

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