WWII veteran, 104, keeps up with the ‘youngsters’ at senior water aerobics

A 104-year-old WWII veteran, Charlie Duncan (upper left) does water aerobics three days a week at the Mountain View Aquatic Center in east Cobb. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Phil Skinner

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A 104-year-old WWII veteran, Charlie Duncan (upper left) does water aerobics three days a week at the Mountain View Aquatic Center in east Cobb. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Charlie Duncan wears his age on a ball cap, and that gets a lot of attention.

“104,” it reads.

Last year’s cap was more direct: “I’m 103. I do what I want.”

Duncan, a World War II veteran, is used to the stares and smiles. He gets plenty of both at the Mountain View Aquatic Center when he drives there three days a week to participate in a water aerobics class.

He understands the curiosity.

“How many people do you see who live to be this old?” Duncan asks rhetorically.

After changing into his swim trunks, he parks his walker – with the “I’m Old” license plate – steps into the pool and blends in with the other seniors, some 40 years his junior.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

He doesn’t get any assistance and he doesn’t ask for any, either.

“Everybody loves him here,” said Joyanne Wyne, who leads the Adaptive Aquatics & Arthritis class. She and Duncan have been together for several years, first meeting in a similar workout she taught at a nearby YMCA. He was a legend there, too, she said.

Duncan never stops moving in the water. Wyne said he participates in all the movements, like jogging in place, and the kicks, jumps and one-legged hops to improve balance. Once when a new member showed up, Duncan moved over to coach them through the motions.

As is his custom, Duncan leaves the pool just before the class ends. Everyone else waves and calls out, “Bye Charlie.”

The centenarian is a “huge inspiration” to everyone in the water aerobics class, said fellow classmate Angela McInish.

“If he can be out here three days a week and do this, we can all do this. We don’t have any excuse,” she said.

Duncan said he adheres to this sage advice: “‘If you’ve got it and don’t use it, you’ll lose it’ – and I don’t want to lose it.”

He attributes his long life to staying active and eating healthy. “I try to live right, eat right,” said Duncan. “I’ve always had a big garden, and I had plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts. If you eat them, you’ll live healthily.”

For 37 years, square dancing kept him mentally and physically young. He did the do-si-do with his late wife, Mary, and still has the framed certificate from the American Square Dance Club honoring him as an active member at age 100.

“You had to think fast, and you had to move fast,” he said.

He doesn’t dance regularly anymore. Mary Duncan died in February at age 96. They were married for 44 years.

His first wife, Geneva Duncan, died in 1976 at age 55. They had been married for 39 years and had two girls. Ellen Duncan, 83, lives in Florida, and Selena and son-in-law Sam Huff, both 75, live near Duncan. He resides in an assisted living community in Canton, not far from where he was born.

Duncan grew up on a farm, initially in the Hickory Flat community of Cherokee County. In January 1930, when Duncan was still a boy, his parents put everything they owned on a two-horse wagon and moved the family to Cobb County, settling and farming nine miles west of Marietta.

“Can you imagine a 10-year-old (sibling) and a 12-year-old and a pair of mules going down the road? Not this day and time,” Duncan said, laughing at the memory.

Duncan was educated through the seventh grade at the Seventh District Agricultural and Mechanical School (now John McEachern High School) in Powder Springs. He still recalls the campus layout and teacher dormitories.

Then in 1944, on his 25th birthday, Duncan was sworn into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to serve in the bridge outfit during WWII. He was married with a 3-year-old daughter and was on his third draft deferment because of his work at a lumber company.

During the war, he helped assemble prefabricated steel truss Bailey bridges and floating pontoon bridges, then delivered them to the front lines.

After 18 months, Duncan returned home to his maintenance job at the lumber mill, where he kept the motors running. After a couple of years, he left to work for the Randall Brothers millworks in Atlanta. Duncan lost part of two fingers working as a mill cutter for cabinets but eventually worked his way up to mill superintendent. He retired after 37 years.

“For somebody who’s uneducated, I’ve done pretty good,” he said.

When Duncan turned 104 on May 27, he celebrated with 60 to 70 people at the Semper Fi Bar & Grille in Woodstock, a veteran-owned establishment. The crowd included four generations of Duncans.

He said that he never expected to live so long as to enjoy three-digit birthdays.

“If I had, I would have taken better care of myself,” he said.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner


Cobb County Commissioners declared May 27 as Charlie Duncan Day in Cobb County in honor of the WWII veteran’s 104th birthday.

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