IN REMEMBRANCE: Son, nephew pays tribute to his Stanly County ‘band of brothers’ so history is not lost

Memorial Day is a holiday designated to remember service members who gave their lives to their country.

Though they didn’t die in service, one local man found a way in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day to honor his “band of brothers,” as they were all part of “The Greatest Generation.”
Gerald Carpenter of Albemarle, a retired Pfeiffer University professor, is one of the latest people to purchase bricks at Liberty Gardens of Memory in downtown Albemarle. He purchased one for his father and his dad’s four brothers who served at the same time in World War II. The youngest at induction was 17, the oldest 40.

Carpenter spoke this month about his dad and his uncles, recapping their time in service.

James G. “J.G.” Carpenter was 17 when he entered the Navy. He was a mechanic aboard a PBY amphib in the Pacific. He was the last to enter service and was in Japan after it surrendered.

“One story he told is rather humorous; as a crew member responsibilities required regular maintenance,” Gerald Carpenter said. “A new crew member noticed, while the aircraft was moored at a pier, a yellow fluid streaming from the fuselage. The crew member put his finger in the stream and touched it to his tongue. Upon learning it was the urine exit port, they, the ole salts, told him it was better to check than have trouble inflight.”

“J.G.,” being 17, needed parental approval to join.

“Grandpa signed for him and Grandmother was beside herself having four other sons in service,” Gerald Carpenter said.

This information was originally published in a 1995 edition of The Stanly News & Press.

Unlike his brothers, Henry Dudley “Bill” Carpenter had no choice. He was drafted.

“It was thought he would not medically qualify due to a childhood illness that left him with a heart murmur,” Gerald Carpenter said.

Bill enlisted on Aug. 13, 1943 at Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty), serving in Co I 141 Infantry 36th Infantry Div.

He received the Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars, the Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters, the Meritorious Unit Award and the Victory Medal.

He fought in North Africa and liberated Rome as the Allies marched through Italy, Gerald Carpenter said. They pushed into Germany before being captured.

He was discharged Nov. 17 1945 at Fort Bragg as a staff sergeant.

“Uncle Bill was captured and a POW at Stalag Sc Wurtemberg 48 08,” Gerald Carpenter said. “According to Genoal Russell, Bill’s niece, when she and her parents picked him up at Fort Bragg, he was a human skeleton. He weighed less than 100 pounds. When asked if they had much to eat in captivity he remembered meals consisted of a large barrel filled with water and one cabbage thrown in for all prisoners to eat.

“Bill was advised as to what to eat so as to keep it down in his emaciated condition. I asked if they ate and captured rats to supplement meals. His response was ‘rats were a delicacy and very rare to come by.’ Food was in short supply, even for the Germans at the end of the war. His teeth had been knocked out during frequent tortue by his captures. The POW guards would take him out nightly and brutalize him by hitting him in the head with the butt of their guns.”

After the war Bill lived with his older brother, Jack, and his family.

“The reason was to spare his mother the agony he would go through living with the horrors he had suffered and with his PTSD,” Gerald Carpenter said. “His younger brother, J.G., who enlisted at 17, also came to live and help him through the nightmares that often found him awakening everyone in the household to his screams. Minnie, Jack’s wife, and J.G. would comfort him when this occurred. As therapy, Bill and J.G. had an old car they would paint and work on carpentry projects.”

Bill retired in Concord from his job as an upholsterer, Carpenter said.

In 1981, Bill was interviewed by The Concord Tribune about his experiences as a POW. He had not told many people until around this time what had happened, and some found out only when the article was printed.

He lost 99 pounds during his 99 days as a POW.

“They would slap me across the room, slam me against the wall, trying to get me to resist so they would have an excuse to kill me,” he told the Tribune, “but I knew better than to fight back, no matter what they did to me.”

“It must have been difficult for the family, especially his mother, to have five sons in World War II and little, if any, communication at that time,” Gerald Carpenter added. “Bill was listed as MIA and his family did not know whether he was alive or dead.

“It was told the reason for his survival, by my dad, that in North Africa he was taught by a Native American solider how to carry his machine gun on patrol,” Gerald Carpenter said. “With the gun strap around his neck, the gun waist high cross-body and finger on the trigger. Any sound, he pulled the trigger and the recoil would cause the weapon to sweep in an arc automatically. This technique was attributed to his survival.”

These medals and ribbons were awarded to “Bill” Carpenter. (Contributed)

Clay T. Carpenter, Gerald’s father, served as a firefighter in the Panama Canal Zone and joined the Navy while in Panama. He enlisted in September 1944 at Fort Amador in the U.S. Naval Reserve and served in the Navy Shore Patrol CocoSolo Armed Guard.

“His primary assignment was guarding and protecting the vital link between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean,” Carpenter said.
“He sent Julia Huneycutt, his high school sweetheart, a round trip ticket to fly to Panama and they were married in a Naval sponsored ceremony. They resided in Panama and returned to North Carolina in 1953.”

Raymond C. Carpenter enlisted Jan. 4, 1937, and was discharged 20 years later on Jan. 31, 1957 at Fort Bragg as a major.

He earned a World War II Ribbon, Good Conduct Ribbon, European Theater, Korean Theater and Korean War Ribbon with three oak leaf clusters.

“While in Korea he adopted and brought back to the States a young Korean boy,” Gerald Carpenter said. “This adopted Korean boy grew up, joined the military, became a fighter pilot and served in Vietnam and was buried at Arlington.”

This information was originally published in a 1995 edition of The Stanly News & Press.

Spencer L. Carpenter enlisted March 22, 1944 at age 40 and was discharged Nov. 25, 1945. He served on the USS Alcor and earned the World War II Victory, Philippine Liberation medal.
Back at Liberty Gardens, the bricks are in a line next to one for Carpenter and his brother, with Gerald joining the Navy in 1968 and serving until 1974. His brother, Clay Tom Carpenter Jr., served in the U.S. Air Force, joining in 1969.

This information was originally published in a 1995 edition of The Stanly News & Press.

The “reason for the brick journey was to recognize the sacrifice of this family’s service to free not only the USA, but also the world,” Gerald Carpenter said. “These five brothers and countless others in Stanly County, North Carolina and the USA sacrificed so much, we should appreciate what they gave up for our freedom.”

Gerald Carpenter points to an area of Liberty Gardens where bricks honoring his father and uncles are laid. (Contributed)

Main Street Manager Joy Almond said bricks are $75 and available for placement at Liberty Gardens by visiting .

Upon conclusion of his “brick journey,” Carpenter says history should be remembered and not removed.

“When World War II ended they came home to a grateful nation, were humble, lived with their wounds, picked up their lives and went back to work. Many times we lived, worked alongside true heroes without ever knowing because due to their humility, they never said a word,” he said. “With recent events of removing historical monuments, younger generations are in danger of repeating the same mistakes. History should be history and factual. The negative aspects should be known so as to learn and not repeat and the positive events should be honored so they can be repeated. Destroy history and we have no roots and when the roots die so does the tree.”

B.J. Drye is general manager/editor of The Stanly News & Press. Call 704-982-2123.