CLIFTON SPRINGS — World War II veteran Charlie Moore and Midlakes High School senior Katrina Lee were nearly inseparable during a trip earlier this month to New Orleans, where they toured the National World War II Museum.
“I was blessed to have Katrina be my mate for those three days,” Moore said. “She did a wonderful job taking care of me.”
Apparently, that short time together formed a bond that will not weaken soon. Lee and several of her friends at Midlakes surprised Moore on his 93rd birthday Wednesday with a party at Spa Apartments, where he lives.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Moore said, wiping away a few tears. “These kids are fantastic.”
Lee accompanied Moore to “The Big Easy” as part of Soaring Valor, a program through the Gary Sinise Foundation that brings World War II veterans — and their guardians — on an all-expense paid trip to New Orleans and the museum. American Airlines partners with the Sinise Foundation.
Lee and 43 other Midlakes students accompanied nearly 50 World War II veterans from upstate New York on the trip. The foundation chose Midlakes this summer, and students were selected after writing letters to school administrators and going through an interview process.
Moore, who grew up in Niagara Falls, enlisted in the Navy in 1944 before he could be drafted.
“I wanted to pick the branch of service I was in,” he said. “I wanted to see the world through a porthole, but I ended up staying in the States the whole time!”
Stationed at a Naval air base in Corpus Christi, Texas, Moore was a deep sea diver specializing in salvage work. That mainly consisted of finding airplanes that crashed into the Gulf of Mexico during training runs.
“Those flyboys had to fly at night, which meant coming in and landing in the dark. We would go out in the bay, anchor and be there from eight at night until two or three in the morning, just in case,” he said. “We would hook onto them if they crashed. Our ship had a big crane ... and we would raise the plane to the deck and take it ashore, and they would salvage what they could.”
Moore got married while he was in the Navy to his childhood girlfriend, Florence, who lived across the street from him in Niagara Falls. She worked for the Red Cross in Washington, D.C., while Moore was in the military, and they moved back to Niagara Falls after he was honorably discharged in May 1946.
Moore had a long career in sales, working in New York, Indiana and Ohio, until he “felt a call to go into the ministry.” He and Florence worked for the Salvation Army for more than seven years before he returned to sales and retired in 1985.
They settled in Avon, Livingston County, but moved to be closer to their two daughters, Kathy and Gail. Moore and his wife lived at North Street Apartments in Geneva for several years before he moved to Spa Apartments, when Florence went into Clifton Springs Nursing Home.
They were married for 72 years before Florence passed away last year.
Moore’s daughter Kathy (Berger), a nurse at Clifton Springs Hospital, also attended Moore’s birthday party along with several of Moore’s friends at Spa Apartments. Lee was accompanied by Midlakes students Victoria Rose, Kenzie Mattoon, Megan Bowman and Halle Burgess.
“I could see the change in them because of this trip. They can read about World War II in history books, but on the trip they were talking to the guys that were there,” Moore said. “That museum was something else. They had a 4-D movie, showing guys in the trenches, and every time a missile would go off the lights and ceiling would flash on and off, and the seats would shake. It made you feel like you were right there in the war.”
“It was a short three days, but I learned a lot,” Lee said. “It was a great experience for me and the other students, but watching Charlie and all the other veterans experiencing it was great, too.”