Life Story / Obituary
Humble, hardworking, and kind, Charles “Chuck” Sheldon Aldrich lived a life rich in family and friends. Having grown up in a time of great need and global strife, Chuck learned these values from a very early age. Reinforced by his service in the Navy during WWII, Chuck embraced each day as a gift to be treasured. Chuck cherished his family, his country, and the freedoms he and his generation fought to preserve and ensure. Revered by many, Chuck will long be remembered in the hearts of those who were blessed to know him.
1925 proved especially prosperous with the advent of many remarkable debuts including the first motel, the dedication of Mount Rushmore, the opening of the first Sears Roebuck store, the first issue of the New Yorker and broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry, the election of our nation’s first female governor, the founding of Chrysler Corporation, the publishing of The Great Gatsby, and the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. This vibrant time grew even more brilliant in Hastings, MI as Clara (Priest) and Vern Aldrich welcomed their son Charles into their hearts and home on February 7th.
Below are some highlights from Chuck's life as told by his family. If you would like to hear Chuck in his own words describing his life from an interview in 2011, please visit the link below:
The sixth of the Aldrich family’s eight boys, Chuck’s earliest years were spent in Hastings, MI. While still quite young, the family moved to Lowell where Chuck attended Snow School. As much of his childhood occurred during the Great Depression, many of Chuck’s earliest memories center around the family working their family farm to ensure their basic needs. The little farm included cows and chickens and a large vegetable garden. The apple and peach trees afforded the family delicious fruit. While his mother ran the home, his father worked a variety of odd jobs to help make ends meet. With Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and the creation of the WPA, Chuck’s father was able to find steady work. With his team of horses, Vern worked on many local projects the community continues to benefit from. Eventually, the family settled in Cascade near the Thornapple River.
At the age of 17, Chuck hadn’t finished high school and didn’t feel like he had something particular to do. So, on May 12, 1942, Chuck and his father went to the local recruiting office at Reed’s Lake where Chuck enlisted in the Navy. Soon, he was taking his “boots” at Naval Station Great Lakes, IL. Approaching his service as a job, Chuck adjusted well to military life. After five weeks of marching and marching and marching and studying the Blue Jacket Manual, Chuck was put in an Outgoing Unit and sent to Little Creek, VA where he went to Gunnery School. From here, he was sent to the Armed Guard Center in Brooklyn, NY where he was assigned to the SS John Penn, an Armed Merchant vessel. On August 4th, Chuck shipped out for the first time on the Liberty ship. They first traveled to Halifax, Canada; then made their way to Scotland.
Chuck was taken with the ocean’s beauty and how the fog enveloped the British Isles preventing the ships from reaching shore. Fortunately, he wasn’t prone to seasickness and only became ill once during a violent storm near Iceland that assailed the ship with 72 mile an hour winds while he was on watch as the convoy he was in made their way to Russia.
On the morning of September 13, 1942, two ships and a submarine in the convoy were sunk by the enemy. Later that afternoon the convoy was attacked by a squadron of German Junkers Ju 88. The A/G did a splendid job of protecting the convoy; no damage was reported by this attack. Several hours later, a second attack by torpedo planes concentrated on four columns of the convoy. The John Penn was hit in this action. Working as a loader on a 3”/50 gun, Chuck lost his hearing while defending the ship and did not hear the order to abandon ship. As he saw everybody heading for the lifeboats, it was clear what was happening. He quickly made his way to the only remaining lifeboat that was hanging by a thread. Along with three other sailors and an officer, Chuck waited to be rescued in the boat they soon realized was riddled with shrapnel holes. Using only the air tanks kept it afloat; they were sitting in water up to their waist until a British destroyer picked them up and took them to Murmansk. To this day, Chuck does not enjoy sitting in a small boat with water up to his waist.
Fortunately, Chuck returned home safely after seeing action all around the world including: in Oran, North Africa; operating on a LCM in the area between Mers-El-Kebir and Arzew; transporting supplies on the oil tanker SS Cerro Gordo from Curacao to English Ports; serving on a minesweeper in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; serving for 22 months on the tugboat USS Montcalm in the Caribbean; and then boarding the Liberty ship USS Volans which took him to Okinawa, Sasebo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
Upon returning from Japan, he was asked if he wanted to go home. Without hesitation, Chuck said “yes,” packed up his sea bag, and was en route to the Midwest. He took a troop ship back to San Francisco and a train back to Great Lakes where he was discharged on December 21, 1945. He returned home later the next day.
After registering with the local draft board, Chuck found work at NL Industries (Doehler-Jarvis) and Model Die and Mold where he made his career. He began his work as a buffer; eventually, he switched to polishing. Chuck continued this work for 29.5 years until the company closed in 1975. After being unemployed for about a year, Chuck began working as a handyman.
In 1949, Chuck married Grace Laura Thomas. Together, they were blessed to bring five beautiful children into the world. Though their marriage ended in divorce, the gift of parenthood proved a powerful blessing for Chuck.
In 1960, Chuck had the good fortune of meeting the love of his life, Donna, while frequenting O’Reilly’s. It didn’t take long for Chuck to grow smitten with his favorite waitress and the two were soon dating and married. The happy couple first made their home on the west side of Grand Rapids, later purchasing a home farther down on Garfield where they remained for the rest of their lives together.
Over the years, Chuck and Donna enjoyed many opportunities to travel. Chuck formed strong bonds with his fellow servicemen during the war which remained an important part of his life. Much of their travels and celebrations were spent traveling to attend reunions, reminiscing, and celebrating their good fortunes. Chuck was also an avid deer hunter. He always planned his vacation around deer season.
A man who built his life on the comforts and rewards of routine and regime, Chuck was a disciplined member of the YMCA. Much of his retirement years were spent at the Y where he nurtured both his friendships and his well being. In many ways, the Y was a second home for Chuck, and he enjoyed his membership there until he was 90! Despite no longer going to the Y for his workouts, Chuck maintained his commitment by physically exercising every day until this past June.
Clearly, life feels less certain without Chuck’s steadfast presence. May our many warm memories of this good man afford deep comfort. May it also provide comfort to know that each time we raise our flag, enjoy one another’s good company, remain loyal and true, and give thanks for our freedoms that we keep Chuck’s legacy alive in our daily lives. In so doing, his spirit will continue to inspire others as he so inspired us.
Charles S. Aldrich, 93, of Coopersville, formerly of Grand Rapids, passed away on Saturday, 11/17/18. He was born on 2/7/1925, the 7th of 11 children, in Hastings, MI to Clara (Priest) and Vern Aldrich. He served in the U.S. Navy during WWII. NL Industries (Doehler-Jarvis) and Model Die and Mold is where he spent his career. He was pre-deceased by his wife, Donna, and his sons, Jack, Jimmy and Dan. He is survived by his children: Kristian Aldrich (Jim Patch); Jerry Aldrich; stepchildren: Sandy (Tom) Ball; Nancy Mayeaux; Louis (Sandy) Czewski; Brothers: Donald (Donna) and Darrell (Doris) Aldrich; many grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, as well as step grandchildren, step great grandchildren, and a step great-great grandson. As a member of the YMCA, he enjoyed his retirement years there until he was 90, and still did physical exercise daily up until June of 2018. Deer season was another interest of his, which he always planned his vacations around during his career. We would like to thank the staff of Fountain View Building #1 for their care. The Funeral and Committal Services will be held at 12 PM on Saturday, November 24, 2018 at Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Visitation will be held from 2-4 PM on Friday at the funeral home. Contributions in his memory may be made to the charity of one’s choice. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to read Chuck’s lifestory, submit a photo, memory or to sign his guestbook.