Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part interview with Stoughton’s Charles Large. Part I discusses his service in World War II. Part II is about Large returning home, moving to Stoughton and his service to the town.
Eighty-seven years have passed since Stoughton’s Charles F. Large first entered this world, and though he walks with a cane and regularly fights the pain of an old back injury, he is feisty and upbeat.
He is both revered and treasured in town for a slew of reasons, and his mind is filled with countless memories that continue to bring him joy.
And he is with no doubt a quintessential member of the Greatest Generation—a dwindling group of men and women who were born between 1914 and 1929, and fought the “Big One.”
They served humbly and honorably in World War II, and came back to marry, start families, and continue to serve their country in a productive and selfless way, through jobs and public service.
“I was 17 when the war broke out, and I wanted to go to in then. But you had to be 18 to go without both parents’ permission. My father was all for it, but my mother was not about to send her firstborn off to war…I had to wait until I was 18, in the summer of ‘42,” he said.
Large, who spoke with me at a town landmark named for him – the Charles F. Large Gazebo, at Faxon Veterans Memorial Park—ended up serving three and a half years in the U. S. Navy. He would later move to Stoughton, raise a family, and work his way up the ranks of the Stoughton Fire Department, to become a lieutenant.
He grew up in East Cambridge, moving to Dorchester in his teens, and worked as a metal worker before he enlisted. Before he left, he asked his girlfriend, Evelyn Metzger, to marry him, but her parents insisted that they not marry until he was through with his military service, and came back in good shape.
He managed to do that, but not before he took part in a number of battles in the Pacific and Atlantic, which resulted in 13 campaign bars.
World War II Service
Large started his military service with several boot camps, including one for advanced metal working that led to a second-class rating. He was later promoted to a first-class rating, and was in charge of 18 men in a metal shop on an aircraft carrier.
He served on a destroyer – the U.S.S. Harding, a blimp, an escort vessel, and the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga, which was attacked by two kamikaze bombers, near Okinawa, leaving 144 dead, 76 missing and 210 wounded.
He said his most harrowing experience was in the Solomon Islands, while serving on a destroyer. He was one of 75 men who volunteered for a mission to invade small island of Buka, which was occupied by Japanese troops.
They landed at night, hoping to surprise the Japanese, but were outnumbered so greatly, they had to retreat. At that point, he remembers running back towards the beach, through a jungle, hoping to be rescued by the destroyer.
He rescued two other men on the way back – one who was wounded and one who was temporarily blinded– and helped to carry one and lead another back to the beach. There was no destroyer waiting, however.
“I thought that was it,” he said.
The men hid under a tree until day break, and they were eventually picked up by rubber boats that took them to the destroyer. He said the Japanese were still looking for the troops, but they retreated into the woods when the Americans fired mortar at them. In the end, only 24 of them survived, and only 11 were unwounded.
Large also survived two kamikaze hits, while serving on the aircraft carrier, the U. S. S. Ticonderoga, near Okinawa. The crash caused a number of explosions, which filled the air with toxic smoke.
Though Large survived the initial hits, he nearly died from smoke inhalation, while fighting the fire.
“I was on the lower deck, fighting the fire. And we had a rescue breather with canister, and it ran out, and I had to find another one and sucked up smoke. Orders came to abandon the shop, and we went aft to the machine shop, which was supposed to have better air, but we still could not see each other. I passed out from the smoke,” he said.
Large collapsed and was taken to an area for the wounded, and was given Last Rites by a priest, but recovered with medical care.
At the end of his service, he had received thirteen awards, including two awards for combat action, an American Theatre Operations medal with one battle star, seven battle stars for action in the Asiatic Pacific, a navy commendation and a good conduct medal.