FOLEY, Ala. (NNS) -- Twelve members of the Naval Hospital Pensacola (NHP) Chief Petty Officers Association (CPOA) went to the home of 94-year-old Charles "Chuck" Wheeler, retired chief and Battle of Midway veteran, to help with the everyday tasks he is no longer able to complete, May 29.
A 28 year veteran, Wheeler served as an aviation ordinanceman aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise CV-6 from May 1941 to Feb 1944. During that time, the Enterprise participated in numerous engagements against the Japanese Navy including the Battle of Midway, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands and various other air-sea engagements during the Guadalcanal Campaign.
"I don't have the words to express my gratitude in relations to what you all are doing for me," said Wheeler. "Any little thing helps me tremendously. I used to be able to mow the lawn, pick up blown down limbs and leaves and maintain the place."
"Once a Chief, Always a Chief" has significant meaning to the U.S. Navy eternal brotherhood of chief petty officers. When the NHP CPOA was approached about the opportunity to assist Wheeler, they embraced it whole heartedly.
"As soon as this was presented to the chiefs, no one in the association hesitated for a second," said Chief Hospital Corpsman Chi Patrick. "[Helping] is what we do. When a fellow chief needs help, we just do it."
At Wheeler's home, the chiefs split up into groups to accomplish several tasks such as mowing the lawn, removing a section of an old fence and digging up fence posts.
"We're just doing some yard work and simple home beautification for a retired chief," said Chief Hospital Corpsman Chris McKenzie. "The fact that he, as a chief, paved the way for who I am today, blows my mind. To think what [veterans] went through so that we could have the luxury that we have today makes me feel really honored to be here."
About halfway through the morning, Wheeler came outside to talk with this new generation of chiefs.
"I'm excited, I really am," said McKenzie. "When I talked to him, he came alive talking about his battle experiences and some of the things he went through. It is one thing to read a history book, but when you can talk to living history, it's just a phenomenal thing for me. It's been a truly great experience."
After several sea stories reminiscing of old times and a few shared laughs, Wheeler returned inside and the chiefs resumed their work.
Chief Logistics Specialist Brian Garfield appreciated Wheeler's service to the country.
"It's priceless," said Garfield. "That's one of the types of services that can never be repaid. We can only stay committed to make sure we meet the mission all the time like [veterans] did back in that time. We will always be in debt for that service."
For more news from Naval Hospital Pensacola, visit www.navy.mil/local/nh_pensacola/ .