hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

November 7, 2013

World War II survivor pays tribute

By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — It isn’t very often that I get to do a piece about a 90-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona, whom I’ve never met.

But there are exceptions, especially considering the fact he’s a World War II veteran and writes beautiful poetry about his military service.

Add to that the fact he’s an accomplished artist whose work captures celebrities like Cher and builds classical guitars that have caught the attention of virtuosos.

His name is Charles Garo Takoushian and he’s a credit to his generation. Moreover, Veterans Day happens to fall around his birthday and instead of seeing himself honored, he passes off the credit to his fellow soldiers -— The Greatest Generation indeed!

One other touch of irony: He happens to be very computer-oriented, and that’s how we met.

“I’ve been blessed in many ways,” he tells me. “Despite my age, I can’t sit still. I’ve always managed to keep busy and continue to lead a productive life.”

Takoushian first caught my attention a year ago when he sent along a painting he did on Cher in a most unique pose. He captured the singer-actress in a Madonna-like pose, cradling the Infant Jesus.

It might be something you’d find in a supermarket tabloid, hardly an artist’s studio in Arizona. Takoushian happens to be steeped in his Christian fate, especially after surviving a near-fatal mishap 26 years ago.

“As for the image of Cher as a Madonna, I thought — well — she is a Madonna,” he explains. “When I first saw Cher’s picture on the cover of a magazine, I felt there was a similarity to Madonna — and not the singer. When you get down to the reality of it all, who knew what the Madonna really looked like?”

His military duty is very well defined. He served as a gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator, flying many successful missions. He survived the war, not to mention a serious illness in 1985 that nearly took his life. He had been told by a radiologist that he had an 85 percent blockage of his right carotid artery.

He presented that Cher painting to the hospital that performed the life-saving surgery.

The guitars he crafts are fashioned after an Antonio Torres model, a famous guitar-maker in the mid-1800s. He’s passed the talent on to twin grandsons who are perpetuating the art. The entire family is musically-oriented.

Ask him about his favorite idols and he’ll tell you Stradivari, who lived to age 94 making violins, and Leonardo Da Vinci, artist extraordinaire, for “all his talent and insight.”

The Veterans Day poem symbolizes a moment in time meant to be cherished and appreciated by all those who served this country in the name of freedom. He titles it “The Irony of Veterans Day Celebration.”

It reads:

“While giving thanks to those who perished to serve

How shall one who lived receive thanks for having served?

For ‘tis strange to hear all grateful beings

And I with survival guilt, receiving thanks for serving

Having lived with trials and mounting fears

Only to have survived the cruelties of war

While wonderful young soldiers thrust into hell

In the prime of their lives, subjected to the death knell

So ‘tis I that gives thanks for having survived

And wish to beg you, allow me to contrive

Though your grateful thanks and celebration are nice

Allow me to convey your thanks to those

Who have paid the ultimate price

Thank you for your thoughts

And God bless all you precious souls.’’

Writer and photographer Tom Vartebedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.