Catherine was born tough, and, of course, being a former Army Ranger, I encouraged her in that direction: teaching her how to climb over obstacles, swim in the canal by our house in Grosse Ile, and run distance even before she was in grade school. But those were small things. 

It was 1966, and the United States was at war again, this time in Southeast Asia, fighting Communists in South Vietnam. Our forces were also holding the line against the same foe in Europe and in faraway places such as Korea. My name is Bill Carpenter, and I was 24 years old. I had just graduated in March from Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, with a bachelor of science degree in wildlife management. I’m originally from the hills of West Virginia, but my family moved to Denver after I graduated from high school.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Potsdam Agreement stipulated that Berlin would be occupied by the four major allied powers of World War II: the Soviet Union, the United States, the UK, and France. But the war’s end seemed to herald an even graver danger: a world split into two hostile camps, both armed with nuclear missiles. The East, with the centrally planned economies of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, faced the West, with the democratic, market-driven economies of the United States and its NATO allies. Nowhere was this tense rivalry more starkly depicted than in the divided city of Berlin, deep inside Communist East Germany.

On April 9, 1966, I stood in formation by the three red and white 250-foot steel-girder jump towers at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was a warm Saturday afternoon, and I had just completed Airborne School after making five static-line jumps at 1,250 feet from a twin-tailed C-119 Flying Boxcar in Alabama. My sergeant handed me my orders and a small pair of silver-plated jump wings, shook my hand, and said, “Good luck!

Letter to first graders,

Thanks so much for thinking of me on Memorial Day, you made me real happy! When I got your envelopes I sat outside under my favorite tree to read them. It was a beautiful sunny day, much like it was in Vietnam as I read each letter and looked at your drawings. You asked a lot of questions. I'm 62 years old and still feel great. I love to run and swim and I love ice cream with lots of bananas, chocolate and whipped cream. When I was in the Vietnam War way back in 1967-68 I was only 19 years old. I was a sergeant in the Army Rangers and the leader of a five-man team that searched the jungle for bad guys that we captured and turned into good guys.

AuthorRobert Ankony
CategoriesVietnam War