Charles E. Wagner Sr.

Navy veteran who served aboard battleship USS Missouri later worked for Proctor & Gamble

May 12, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Charles E. "Bud" Wagner Sr., a retired Proctor & Gamble worker who served aboard the battleship USS Missouri during World War II, died May 3 of Alzheimer's disease at Oak Crest Village retirement community. He was 84.

Charles Edward Wagner Sr., the son of a pipe fitter and a housekeeper, was born at home in the 1500 block of Light Street. He attended city public schools until dropping out when he was 17.

"He tried to enlist during World War II, but his mother refused to give her permission as he was only 17 years old," said his son, Charles E. Wagner Jr., of Lutherville. "He was drafted when he was 18 and entered the Navy on Sept. 6, 1943."

After completing basic training at the Bainbridge Naval Training Station in Cecil County, Mr. Wagner was assigned as an original crewmember of the battleship Missouri which was still under construction at the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Navy Yard.

"Charlie Wagner, Harry Cooke and President Harry S. Truman were on board the Missouri for its commissioning in June 1944," said Harry "Cookie" Cooke, a retired lithographer, who lives in Algonquin, Ill.

"Truman got off and we stayed on," Mr. Cooke, 83, said yesterday, with a laugh. "It was the beginning of quite an experience."

Following its shakedown cruise, the Missouri arrived at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 24, 1944, when Mr. Wagner, a seaman 1st class, was assigned to the 4th Division as a powderman in Mount No. 2, a portside 5-inch gun turret, where his buddy, Mr. Cooke was a projectile loader.

The Missouri's first wartime engagement occurred in February 1945 when the vessel's guns provided support during the invasion of Iwo Jima.

"That's where we got our first taste of war and then went on to the Battle of Okinawa," Mr. Cooke said.

Mr. Wagner recalled the Missouri's armor shelling the beaches for three straight days in support of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Division's bloody assault on the Pacific atoll.

"We were on duty 24 hours a day," Mr. Wagner recalled in a 1984 article that was published in the Proctor & Gamble employee magazine.

"Bud's gunmount was credited with shooting down a Zero, a Japanese fighter plane, during the battle," his son said.

During a powerful two day typhoon that struck the 3rd Fleet in early June, Mr. Wagner was nearly swept off the Missouri's deck.

"He later stated that the typhoon scared him more than actual combat," his son said.

Mr. Wagner recalled the morning of the Japanese surrender on Sept, 2, 1945, when he was one of 15 Baltimoreans reported to be aboard the vessel that day, in the magazine article.

"We were in Tokyo Bay and the portside of the Missouri was facing the harbor. Since the official signing had taken place yet, there were guns pointing at us," he recounted in the article.

"I was on duty inside my 'mount,' which was a gun emplacement on the portside of the ship, where I performed my duties as a powderman," he said.

"The officers and government officials representing the Allies and Japan came on board the Missouri at approximately eight o'clock. The surrender documents were signed at eight minutes after nine that morning," Mr. Wagner recalled.

But Mr. Wagner, who was on the opposite side of the ship, missed witnessing the ceremony.

"What I remember vividly about that day," he said in the interview, "was all those gentlemen coming on board the ship from the portside, then walking to the staboard side where the ceremony was to take place.

"What seemed humorous to me afterwards was that even though I was 'there,' I had to go to the movies to see the newsreel of the signing," he said.

"I respected him so much," Mr. Cooke said, recalling his wartime friendship with Mr. Wagner.

Mr. Wagner, who survived sea battles, kamikaze attacks, invasions, endless hours of sea duty, and was onboard the Missouri for the end of the war, was discharged on Dec. 24, 1945.

Some of his decorations include the World War II Victory Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with three Bronze Battle Stars and the American Campaign Medal.

After the war, Mr. Wagner was employed at the Linen & Thread Co. until going to work in 1949 for Proctor & Gamble where he worked in manufacturing and warehousing at the company's Locust Point plant.

He retired in 1986, and the next year, the longtime Baynesville resident moved to Chase. Since 1997, he had lived at Oak Crest Village.

Mr. Wagner and his wife, the former Aura L. Bowen, were founding member of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Baynesville. She died in 2003.

Mr. Wagner sang in the church choir, was a longtime usher and member of the church council.

He enjoyed camping and was an avid lifelong ten pin bowler and Orioles fan.

Services were Saturday.

Also surviving are a daughter, Nancy V. Riley of Perry Hall; two grandchildren; and a great-granddaghter.

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