For young men of draft age, 1964 marked a change in where they would be deployed. Military service for the previous decade had meant not being sent into war, but with the assassination of President Kennedy, the Johnson administration was about to take a much different approach.
One young man with ties to Louisa would soon find himself halfway around the world.
Harry Garland Carter was the fourth child and first son born to Garland Carter of the Byrd Mill community and Ruby Harlow Carter of the Evergreen area of Louisa County. Harry would later be joined by two more sisters and two more brothers. Even though the family had moved to work on the Boston Farm, which is now Lake Monticello in Fluvanna County, Harry was born at his grandparents’ farm, delivered on May 3, 1942 by Maude Reynolds, a midwife.
In November 1960, Harry had secured a good job working for Virginia Telephone and Telegraph in Charlottesville. The physical work of a lineman suited him well, but he soon was able to move over to the telephone installation side. With the political climate of 1964, Harry made a visit to the Fluvanna draft board, only to learn that he was in all likelihood about to be drafted. He didn’t want to go through basic training in the dead of winter, so arrangements were made for him to be moved up in the draft for the summer.
Harry describes July 8, 1964 as one of the longest days ever. He left Palmyra on a bus to Richmond, then took a train to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, arriving at 3:30 a.m. Here he was inducted into the U.S. Army and issued an ill-fitting uniform. Two days later it was on to Fort Gordon, Georgia for eight weeks of basic training.
Harry’s telephone background influenced the assignment to the 261st Signal Company at Ft. Bliss, Texas. He stayed 11 months and had the opportunity to play the sport he loved, baseball. His team won the championship for the entire base. Although the terrain of brush and sand was very different than home, the warm climate suited him just fine.
Meanwhile, troop deployments to Vietnam were ever-increasing. President Johnson had essentially been given a blank check to do as he saw fit, with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution approved by Congress in August 1964, For Harry, with only eight months to go, the hope of staying stateside was soon crushed with orders to go to Ft. Carson, Colorado. He and other soldiers were greeted there by six inches of snow and high winds on the first day, without the proper cold-weather uniforms.
The soldiers soon found themselves qualifying on the rifle range. They had qualified in basic training but had to do it again as they prepared to enter a war zone.
Two months of training later, the soldiers packed up for the flight to San Francisco, California, and then transferred onto the USNS General Daniel I. Sultan, a resurrected World War II transport ship. As the sun went down, Harry and his fellow soldiers watched the Golden Gate Bridge and land disappear in the distance.
For the soldiers in the front of the ship below deck, seasickness began to set in. The men were told to get a meal down. Harry was in line as the men returning from the mess began getting sick as they went by. Harry never made it far enough to get the meal, as he also got seasick and was unable to eat for three days. A full recovery took 11 days out of the three-week trip to Vietnam.
The ship docked in Vietnam at Christmas 1965. It was down the ropes to transports, as Harry had seen in WWII footage, and onto land. Then he boarded a C130, flying at treetop level. He finally arrived at Bien Hoa, which he describes as an “opening in the jungle.”
The newly arrived soldiers were set to work putting up tents and digging foxholes around the perimeter. Trying to get some long-overdue rest, the men soon learned none was to be had. The perimeter of the camp was completely cleared for about a quarter of a mile, and then for another quarter of a mile with only the stumps remaining.
Harry said if a soldier stared in the distance long enough, the stumps began to move, and everyone opened fire on the stumps. This was repeated over and over again. They soon learned if they looked away and then back, the stumps would not move. Finally things calmed down after the men learned that they were not being attacked every night.
Around Christmas 1965, there were two “deuce and a half” trucks going into Saigon and they quickly filled, but Harry was not one of the “lucky” ones to get on board. It was good fortune, for in Saigon the enemy threw a grenade into the bed of one of the trucks. Harry still remembers the huge hole blown down through the truck where the blast miraculously went. There were none killed, but several injured.
Three weeks later Harry was moved to Vung Tau, near the ocean. The camp was near a large air base and the quarters were much better, with a concrete floor, wooden sides, and a tent covering. On the air base was a large PX, where Harry and his company lived off soft drinks due to bad water.
Here a funny incident took place. Heading to the PX Harry saw a guy who looked familiar. It was Mike Cooke from Louisa, whom he recognized. Cooke told him that there was another Louisa native there named Sprouse. Halfway around the world, Louisa natives met.
The men’s days were filled with taking trucks to the beach, filling sandbags, and hauling them to a missile site on top of the mountain. At one point the Viet Cong attempted to mortar the airfield, but their rockets fell into a nearby residential area, killing nine and wounding 14 South Vietnamese men, women, and children.
Harry’s time in Vietnam ended in July 1966 with a commercial flight to Anchorage, Alaska, and then to Oakland, California to be processed out. An airline workers’ strike began just as he was trying to buy a ticket. Anxious to get home, Harry boarded a bus for a three-day trip across the country.
Harry returned to work at the telephone company and in December 1972 he married Delmayne “Tudy” Perkins. They had dated before he left and he wrote letters to her while serving.
To them would be born two children, Anthony and Angela, both now married, and today the Carters have six grandchildren.
Harry retired from the phone company in 2001 after 41 years, then continued in that field as a contractor until he fully retired. Today Harry and Tudy remain very active in the home church of their families, Macedonia United Methodist, and remain busy living roughly in the center of the area where Harry’s parents’ families have long-established roots.