Charles Bartlett, known by most as Chuck, spent 39 days in the early 1940s on a ship bound for India.
From Newport News, Virginia, Bartlett and several thousand other soldiers took the long way, through the Panama Canal and around the southern end of Australia to avoid Japan. On board, they had two meals a day — both consisted largely of beans, Bartlett still remembers.
Sunday’s meals included ice cream, and since Bartlett’s return trip crossed the International Date Line at the right time, they got two Sundays in a row — and two days of ice cream.
“The water that’s made at sea is the most tastiest water I’ve ever had,” Bartlett said.
That story and others from Bartlett’s three and a half years in the Air Transport Command, largely spent in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) as a communications clerk, were among many reflections shared Monday as family and neighbors gathered outdoors to celebrate the Brookings resident’s 100th birthday.
Bartlett grew up in Tacoma, Washington. His family lost its 24-acre farm in Graham, Washington, and their workhorses (Bartlett still remembers their names: Dolly and Major).
He was young at the time, but he remembers much of what others in his family told him about the Depression. The current economic downturn, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and regarded by some as a deeper economic cut than the Depression, is different, he said.
“Everybody was just losing everything,” Bartlett remembered. “Some things are going so good (today). The market’s going so good. But my gosh, we have people starving.”
At that time, Wall Street and Main Street were both suffering losses. But in the current recession, while many have lost jobs, housing and more, Wall Street is performing better than ever.
“It’s almost a two-way deal in these times,” he said.
Bartlett would know – to stay sharp, the centenarian still keeps an eye on the stock market, watching the latest financial news each morning. He used to be a regular trader, going to stock markets in Santa Cruz and Salt Lake City.
“I tried it, scared to death,” he remembers of his first stock trade. “As soon as I could make a small profit off it, I’d sell.”
Eventually, he learned to make gains with patience, and now doesn’t plan to buy or sell any longer, taking in dividends instead.
After growing up with his family in Washington, Bartlett joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, the New Deal work program of conservation projects nationwide. He was stationed at Mount Rainier National Park, in the park’s Longmire area.
Much has changed there. In a recent visit, Bartlett saw that a glacier which had been there in the 1930s during his CCC tenure has long since melted.
“I used to look at that deep blue,” he said. “It’s a strange color, it just looks so ancient.”
After his discharge from the CCC, Bartlett joined the war effort — not by choice, he said, but “because we were drafted.” After about a year in the U.S., Bartlett shipped off to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and boarded a train for Kolkata.
Bartlett, who easily recalls dates and names and still remembers how to say some of the Hindi numbers he learned in India, remembers his favorite moment in life: When he began to take an interest in his late wife, Christina.
“I was drinking a beer,” Bartlett remembered. “She asked us our names, and pretty soon she’s writing to me on the base.”
The two married and lived together for over 75 years, until Christina — often referred to by the nickname “Cricket” because of her childhood broad-jump skill — died in January 2019. Bartlett fondly recalls a trip the two took together, on his 1936 Harley from Tacoma to Capitola, California, outside of Santa Cruz.
Before they moved to Brookings 31 years ago, Bartlett worked as a road construction grade setter in Kearns, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. For many months of the year, it was cold – too cold for Christina to leave the house, and cold enough for Bartlett to limit his time outside of construction vehicles to a few minutes at a time.
The pair chose Brookings to retire in after Bartlett overheard the Brookings weather forecast was consistently a few degrees warmer than where he’d been living at the time.
“I said, ‘someday, this is where I want to retire.’ And by golly, I did,” Bartlett said.
The eldest of three children, Bartlett outlived both his brother and sister. He never had kids of his own, but stays in touch with a handful of nieces and nephews.
He’s outlived many of his family members – something he credits with his habits. He eats three meals at precise times, and doesn’t snack between them.
He also doesn’t smoke or drink. He hasn’t since he quit, cold-turkey, decades ago.
For Bartlett, living long is also a matter of being kind, a lesson he said he learned from his neighbor of 20 years who arranged Monday’s birthday get together.
“I believe to accept everybody as a friend,” Bartlett said.