JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thousands of people participated in the Jacksonville's Veterans Day Parade on Monday. This year, retired Master Chief Charles Holland, who served 32 years in the U.S. Navy, was not in attendance downtown because of his health.
News4Jax spoke with the Navy veteran about his excitement in recently checking the box on one of his “bucket list” items. He had to go about a thousand miles each way, but more than 70 years later, Holland went back aboard the ship he served on in World War II.
When News4Jax shared his story in March, his doctors had told the 94-year-old that his cancer would take his life. His battle against the disease kept him from a long-awaited trip to New England until just a few weeks ago.
Charles Holland said that at one point, he thought he would have to scratch off going to see the ship from his bucket list.
"After I got this cancer, I thought I'd never get back up there," he said.
But Charles Holland and his son, Jerry Holland, were able to go up to the Boston area, where they got a VIP tour aboard the USS Massachusetts -- the battleship Charles Holland served on during a 26-month deployment in World War II during the mid-1940s.
"It seems like, I don't know about most people, but me, I can remember back 77 years a lot more than I can remember today. You asked me what I had for breakfast and I'll say I don't remember," Charles Holland said.
Needing a wheelchair to get around made it tough, but Charles Holland was determined. His tour guides and his son were surprised.
"My dad's energy, my dad's memory -- it blew away the two curators. They were just ... 'This guy is phenomenal! This guy remembers.' And we're talking 77 and 73 years ago and he's living it like it was yesterday," said Jerry Holland, Duval County's property appraiser.
One of the surprises Charles Holland had for them -- a desire, or demand, to climb up inside Turret Three, his combat station on the ship.
"He had been on the wheelchair the whole time and he told the crew there, 'I want to go up in there.' They kept saying, 'Are you sure?' He said, 'No, I am going to go up in there," Jerry Holland said.
Charles Holland “went there” in remembering his time serving on the ship, his comrades during the war and completing a “bucket list” item worthy of a veteran who served more than three decades.
"I felt really special there that day. I was the only one there that was a veteran of the ship, you know," Charles Holland said. "I wouldn't have missed it for nothing. The only thing I regret is that we didn't have three or four days up there."
Jerry Holland said his father has been and will always be his hero because of his devotion to faith, family and his duty.