By Mike Walsh for The Island Eye News
Battery Gadsden Cultural Center recently received a very special contribution, because it was in honor of a very special individual. Carol and Ed Willingham of Raleigh, N.C., gave a generous donation to honor the memory of Carol’s late father, Charlie Connor, who spent part of his time in the Army during World War II stationed at Fort Moultrie. While his time on Sullivan’s Island was brief compared to his postings in the Pacific Theater, it was long enough for Charlie to fall in love with the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
Charlie Connor was born in Shelby, N.C., and spent most of his life before and after the war in our neighboring state to the north. His nickname was “Hot”, though whether that was for his scoring ability on the basketball court or his dashing good looks, no one is quite sure.
Charlie enlisted in the Army in 1942 and served in the Philippines and Japan. In fact, Charlie was aboard one of the small ships arrayed around the battleship USS Missouri on September 2nd, 1945, when the surrender was signed ending the war.
Following his military service, Charlie had a long career with the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Married for 62 years, Charlie and his wife, Lucy, raised a family that included three children and eventually nine grandchildren and two greatgrandchildren.
The Willinghams have a second home on the Isle of Palms, where Charlie Connor visited often, allowing him to return to the Lowcountry he had come to love while at Fort Moultrie. On one trip down for his 92nd birthday celebration, Charlie got the itch to go exploring Sullivan’s Island trying to locate exactly where he had spent his time stationed here: the gun emplacements. Where were the gun emplacements? The island seemed so much wider than he remembered. Who could possibly fill in the blanks and help Charlie reconcile what he was seeing with what he remembered. Surely there must be an “old timer” he could talk to. He insisted that Carol and her brother drive him to the post office. Certainly he would find someone there who could answer his questions. Arriving at the Sullivan’s Island post office he approached the first person coming out of the building, not exactly an old timer, but a good choice because Connor had just introduced himself to former Sullivan’s Island mayor, Marshall Stith. Yes, Marshall could answer Charlie’s questions. According to his daughter, Charlie enjoyed that conversation with Marshall more than he had enjoyed his 92nd birthday party the night before.
I recently spent a delightful afternoon with Carol Willingham learning more about the man in whose honor the donation had been made. I learned that Charlie’s favorite response when asked how he was doing was, “First rate, and I hope you are, too!” I learned that in his nineties Charlie had mastered the use of his iPhone and iPad, which he used to share photos and videos of his beloved family. Charlie loved oysters, chocolate, the beach, churning (and eating) homemade ice cream, tending azaleas and roses, feeding leftover food to the birds and squirrels in his back yard, and, more recently, Davidson basketball.
Charles William “Charlie” Connor, at 95 years of age, died peacefully in his sleep on Nov. 13, 2017.
It is truly a privilege for Battery Gadsden Cultural Center to receive this donation in honor of Charlie Connor, a member of the “Greatest Generation”.
Mike Walsh is the current Board President of the Battery Gadsden Cultural Center.