NEW PORT RICHEY
Once a Marine, always a Marine.
One would be hard-pressed to find anyone who wears that time-worn motto more proudly than Charlie Haggett.
Look around Haggett's New Port Richey home and you will see abundant signs of that dedication, from the numerous Marine Corps emblems, stickers and other memorabilia found in every corner to the brilliant American flag that flutters in the breeze from his porch.
Around Hernando County, the decorated World War II veteran is something of a legend. He survived a torturous three-year combat stint that thrust him into the thick of some of the war's bloodiest campaigns at Guadalcanal, Bougainville and Iwo Jima. His many years of service as part of Marine Corps League Detachment 708 of Spring Hill's honor guard at veterans' funerals won him the undying gratitude of hundreds of families.
Still spry and in good spirits at age 89, Haggett is almost apologetic at the notion that he's some kind of hero.
"I went and did the job I was trained for," he said last week as he sat at his dining room table. "Anyone who ever served in that war will tell you the same thing. We didn't know anything else but to do our jobs and do them well."
As another Memorial Day arrives, Haggett hasn't forgotten the necessity he felt back in January 1942 when he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. With the country still reeling from the savage Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he decided it was time to leave the comfort of his Waterbury, Vt., home and step up and do his part to make sure the United States was victorious.
After basic training, Haggett was shipped off to paratrooper school, where he learned, among other things, the survival skills that would serve him well in the island jungles of the South Pacific. Haggett's duties as a Marine raider centered on guerrilla-style fighting deep within enemy territory. Any thought of the dangers were quickly dismissed from his mind.
"You weren't trained to go and hide," Haggett recalled. "You knew your life and everyone else's around you depended on the decisions you made."
After completing missions on Guadalcanal, Haggett and his unit landed on the island of Bougainville, where Allied forces sought to regain control of the island from the estimated 45,000 Japanese troops who occupied it. On one mission, the young corporal was sent with a handful of other soldiers to root out an enemy machine gun nest.
Crawling through dense brush, Haggett managed to get close enough to launch a grenade that killed four Japanese soldiers and silenced the guns. His actions earned him a Silver Star, one of the highest honors for battlefield courage. In the process, however, he was shot in the upper shoulder while taking cover behind a tree, earning him the first of two Purple Hearts he would receive during his service.
Once back home in Vermont, Haggett was eager to find a job and help raise his three children. He spent several years as a marble polisher before heading west to California to start a construction business.
After his retirement in 1986, Haggett and his second wife, Lucy, moved to Spring Hill, where the couple became active in several veterans groups, including the local Marine Corps League detachment. At the time, the organization had no permanent home, so Haggett became active in the collective effort to construct one.
"I take pride in knowing that I was part of helping to get it off the ground," said Haggett, whom the organization selected as Marine of the Year in 2002. "It's a great organization that's done a lot for the veterans community over the years."
Up until two years ago, Haggett served as sergeant-at-arms with the detachment's volunteer color guard, providing final services for deceased veterans at Florida National Cemetery near Bushnell and elsewhere. He said he would gladly continue to participate if his health were better.
"It's something I greatly miss being part of," said Haggett, who moved to Pasco County a few years ago.
"To me, all veterans and their families have earned the respect that comes with that ceremony. And many paid a high price for it."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.