TOMS RIVER – Roman Charkowski recently enjoyed his 100th birthday which – thanks to family members and the staff at his residence at Rose Garden Nursing & Rehab Center – made for quite a celebration.
The World War II Navy veteran has lived at the facility at 1579 Old Freehold for several years now. Rose Garden Activities Director Kevin Bassinder was one of the main organizers of the celebration which featured a visit by Lieutenant Commander James McCarty of Naval Weapons Station Earle who greeted Charkowski and read him a letter.
Following some food, cake and family time, Township Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill came in dressed in Navy whites to present a proclamation to him.
“We would like to thank everyone who helped put this special day together for Roman’s 100th birthday,” Bassinder said. “At this time, I’d like to ask for everyone to please gather your coats and let’s take a walk to our next adventure.”
That adventure consisted of a parade of motorcycles honoring Charkowski that was led by McCarty. This also included local fire trucks and police honoring the veteran.
Everyone in the facility knows Charkowski and he seems to make it a point to know all of them as well. He’s known for his soulful hello and jokes.
The Navy veteran told The Toms River Times “I told Kevin I’ll book that room for next year when I’m 101. I don’t know what motorcycle group was there but I told everybody they promised me a Harley Davidson will be delivered to me tomorrow but darn it, it never came,” he said with a laugh.
Charkowski said he had a lot of stories connected to his days as a sailor in WWII. “I got assigned to a brand-new ship out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a destroyer. It weighted 2,100 tons. We had shakedown around Bermuda, Panama Canal and we laid over one night and they let us go into town. All red light districts.
“That was around Thanksgiving I think but it was 118 degrees. They called each ship each to go through the canal but instead of meeting up with our fleet in Hawaii the captain made one stop in San Francisco. We anchored there and let us go into San Francisco that night. I followed the guys and we ended up in a bar. I was up at the bar and the bartender said what will you have and I said, the same as the others, a beer. He said, I can’t do that sir, you’re not 21. I was only 20 years old so I did without the beer,” he said.
Charkowski added, “we anchored off of Honolulu before we met up with the Fleet also and the captain let us go into town and shipmate said to me, Roman I’m going into Honolulu to get a tattoo. I told him I was not interested in that at all but I wanted to keep him company. We went to the tattoo parlor and while the guy was doing his tattoo, I was looking at the wall at the designs and I ended up with two tattoos.
“The tattoos are very interesting in that you can see the ink after 80 something years,” he said while rolling up his sleeves. “You see how well the ink held out. This was a father and son tattoo parlor. I have the other one on my right shoulder.”
He added, “I said to the dad ‘what do I owe you?’ and he said ‘Give me $5. Today it would be something like $700-$800 and I show them to other guys with tattoos to show them the difference between the ink and the price. The son did the second one and I said ‘What do I owe you?’ and he said $5.50.”
Regarding the military engagements he was involved in, Charkowski said, “my first engagement was on the Japanese Island of Kwajalein. Two interesting things I remember vividly, is when we went by Guam we saw what we thought were civilians taking a run diving off the cliff committing suicide. We figured they thought that rather be captured in Japanese hands they’d be better off. But others told me it might have been the Japanese themselves who wanted to get away from it all too but we really didn’t know.
“I was in the service from 1942 to 1945. I became an election mate onboard ship. I was never sea sick and I would tease those who were sea sick They’d be over at the railing and I’d be eating a pork chop,” the veteran joked.
As to his secret of longevity, Charkowski shared it saying, “very easy for me to say but very difficult for you to do and more difficult for a woman to do, and that is simply, just don’t worry about a blessed thing. It is tough to do.”