Maria Blackburn 0000-00-00 00:00:00
A few days before March 24, 1944, Arch Carpenter lay in a hospital in Northern France not far from the front lines of World War II. The U.S. Army paratrooper was recovering from malaria and he watched closely as the chief medical officer for his division, the 17th Airborne, made his way down the rows of beds, deciding who was well enough to return to duty and who needed further care. The officer was a paratrooper and wore shiny black jump boots just like the ones Carpenter had stashed under his bed. When he came to Carpenter, he reviewed his chart and told him to stay put. That’s when the 19-year-old soldier realized what was happening: The Allied forces were about to make a major airborne assault into Germany and he had just been passed over. Carpenter jumped out of bed, laced up his boots and hustled down to the motor pool where he stole some coveralls. He hitchhiked to where his unit was getting ready for the jump. There he discovered one slight problem: There was lots of combat gear lying about, but no underwear. So he improvised. Carpenter grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the arms and legs off of his flannel hospital pajamas to make his own set of undergarments. A few days later he boarded a plane and he “jumped into Germany in my jammies.” It’s a story that shows Carpenter’s commitment to his division and his country, as well as his wry sense of humor and his skill at storytelling. It also gives some insight into the character of the retired colonel who is one of less than 200 people in the history of the U.S. Army to be awarded the Combat Infantry Badge with two stars for serving in combat in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. But you probably won’t hear this story from Carpenter. “You wouldn’t know squat about Arch from Arch,” says Bill McMonnies, past president of the New Beginnings Gig Harbor Lions Club and a club member for the last 25 years. “Like most heroes he won’t tell you his history. That’s just the way he is.” Carpenter would rather talk about his work with the Gig Harbor Lions. After he retired from the U.S. Army in 1980, he moved his family to Gig Harbor, Washington, a former fishing village just outside of Tacoma. For the last 30 years he’s served his community as a Lion. He’s a past president and past zone chairman. And through the years he’s painted houses and picked up trash, collected and sorted eyeglasses, built baseball fields and scenic overlooks, and otherwise devoted himself to making his jewel of a small town a better place to live. “I’ve had a good life,” says Carpenter, who is 84. “It’s time now that I can do things for other people. I’m happy to do that. It’s wonderful to work with a group of guys and gals that share the same objective of serving the community and having fun together. ” “He’s the consummate Lion,” says Bob Wagers, a Gig Harbor Lion for 28 years and a past district governor. “He’s a leader. A doer. He’s always the first person to step forward and take a leadership role, no matter the task. Arch is well-known not only in our club but throughout our district and our community. He doesn’t have to brag. The rest of us do it for him.” ‘Suitably Decorated’ “Please don’t overplay me as a war hero, because I’m not,” Carpenter insists. “I spent more than 12,000 days in the Army. You’re bound to have a good day once in a while.” Before he was 20, Carpenter was an infantry combat veteran of two combat jumps and five major European campaigns including the Battle of the Bulge. He served in combat in three wars and during his career he rose from private to colonel and earned such honors as two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, four Legions of Merit medals, five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. But he doesn’t want to talk about his medals, either. “I’m not highly decorated, I’m only suitably decorated,” he jokes in a deep, raspy voice that conveys gravitas and wit. He’s a serious guy and doesn’t say much, but his blue eyes sparkle with warmth. He joined the Army right out of high school in 1943. World War II was already in full swing and he had been itching to go since he was 16. “I’m from a generation that was vastly, vastly insulted by the [attack on] Pearl Harbor,” says Carpenter. “Really, I was afraid it was going to be over before I could go. That’s how many of the boys my age felt at the time.” After serving with distinction in World War II he married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Ellen, in 1946 and went to architecture school on the GI Bill. They started a family. “I majored in architecture and minored in reproduction,” quips the father of five, grandfather of eight and great grandfather of two. When the Korean War started, Carpenter, who was in the Army Reserve, couldn’t stand idly by and returned to service as a second lieutenant. On Oct. 8, 1951, in an area known as Hill 347 in Korea, a soldier named John Goodner was gravely injured by mortar and left on the battlefield. Carpenter, who had taken two bullets in the leg, stumbled onto the battlefield, risking his own life to walk Goodner to safety. Goodner insists the Chinese held their fire because they respected Carpenter’s bravery. Carpenter disagrees. “I didn’t have any choice,” Carpenter told Dateline NBC in a 1992 television interview in which he and Goodner were reunited after 52 years. “I could not crawl away or walk away and leave a wounded man who belonged to me.” The men escaped with their lives and Carpenter was awarded the Silver Star for bravery. But instead of feeling like a hero, he felt like a failure. Too many mistakes had been made in that mission, too many men had died. “I was disappointed in some of the things that happened on that mission. I felt that I could see what they were and I wanted to do it better,” he explains. After conferring with his wife, he decided to accept the commission he had been offered some months earlier and become a career Army man. He was never disappointed with his choice. One of his most rewarding duties was serving as a company commander in Europe during the Cold War, training soldiers to become the smartest and the strongest that they could be and ultimately preventing combat from occurring. “I really wanted to be a soldier and a leader of men and this was an important part of it,” he says. Between and after wars, Carpenter attended the Army War College, served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and commanded companies, a battalion and a brigade. “The Army taught me a great sense of responsibility,” he says. “There is no career path that I could imagine that is more demanding and therefore more developmental than this because of the sense of responsibility that you have for others. Being a soldier doesn’t mean you are walking around all day with a rifle. You get to be a leader. You are the one who takes care of your troop day and night.” ‘Double-crossed Him’ Carpenter joined the Lions Club in 1978 when he was stationed in San Francisco’s Presidio. When he retired as assistant chief of staff to the 6th U. S. Army in 1980 and moved to Gig Harbor, he threw himself into being a Lion. “It’s time to serve the community when you get to retirement,” he says. “Your kids are here. Your grandkids are here. You want what’s best for the whole community.” His contributions to the club, which was founded in 1931, have been big and small. Carpenter started the club newsletter and was its editor for many years. A talented artist who likes to cartoon during meetings, he Designed the club logo of a sailboat tied up at a pier on a sunny day. He was part of the team of Lions and community members who helped his son, Brad, a former Gig Harbor Lion, build three Little League baseball fields in Gig Harbor in 1996, fields used by nearly 1,000 boys and girls every season. One of the fields is even named in his honor. It’s a distinction that Carpenter downplays, just like his medals. “I was ill at the time Brad was getting the fields built,” he explains. “He probably thought I wouldn’t last very long, so he had a memorial field named after me. I double-crossed him.” And Carpenter was instrumental in the planning, early design, and fundraising for the Finholm View Climb, a 100-stair path to a scenic overlook of the Puget Sound that the Gig Harbor Lions built in 1999. The climb has welcomed a steady stream of visitors during the last decade, people who enjoy leaning out over the railings, looking out at the pleasure boats in the harbor and resting their eyes on Mount Rainier. “The whole community is proud of this,” he says. He’s also proud of the Lions’ ongoing projects. Whether he’s talking about the Living with Low Vision clinic and support group the club sponsors, detailing the group’s new effort to recruit students at the local community college as members, or discussing the creative “menu” of volunteer opportunities he is currently designing to place on tables during meetings (one column shows the type of service activity and another column shows the time commitment needed), Carpenter is enthusiastic about all of the group’s efforts, past, present and future. “Our motto is ‘We serve.’ Our job in the Lions Club is to make sure we keep what we do current and not rest on our laurels. We are always looking for new ideas,” he says. What he brings to the group, says John Kirry, is leadership. People don’t listen to Arch because he’s a retired colonel. The Gig Harbor Lions Club has three of those. They listen because he inspires others to pitch in and do their best. “Arch has a sense of certainty about him,” says Kirry, club president. “He knows what should be done and what’s right to do and he does those things. People are drawn to that.” “Arch is a man of stature and leadership and history, yet if you asked him to pick up trash on the street, he’s right there,” agrees McMonnies. “When I was president I called on Arch many times for things because I knew he would always help.” Carpenter is such an important part of the Gig Harbor Lions Club that just more than a year ago when the group wanted to hold a fundraiser to help them support their work in the community, they decided to roast and toast him. He wasn’t thrilled about the idea at first, but his desire to help his club won out. “Just sit over there and be quiet,” Kirry would joke to Carpenter at meetings where they discussed plans for the dinner. “The Lions club needs you for this project. We need the money!” The event was held in October and drew 150 friends and family members who paid tribute to Carpenter by telling stories about his service in the Army and as a Lion and testifying about how much he means to them. Dressed in his “mess dress” and wearing his miniature medals, he sat on a throne decorated with flags from the two U.S. Army divisions in which he served. The roast raised $12,700 and was a big success. “It was much more of a toast than a roast,” Kirry says. Carpenter, who presented a $2,000 donation from the Gig Harbor Lions to the USO at the event, is glad to have been of service. But really, he’s most happy that the roast is done. Now he can return to being just another Lion. “Medals, I have a few,” he says. “But other people in this life contribute to many things that are worthwhile. The country is made up of more things than soldiers. My life is no more important than anyone else’s.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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