Monday, June 8, 2009

Private William H. Carpenter, USMC (1948 - 1967)

Private William H. Carpenter, USMC (1948 - 1967)
By Louis M. Iatarola

On December 27, 1967, William H. (Billy "Awgy Dawgy") Carpenter became the second Taconyite and twenty-second Father Judge graduate to lose his life in the Vietnam War. On this Tacony History Day, September 21, 1996, the gymnasium within the Disston Recreation Center will be dedicated in his memory. This profile is intended to familiarize us with the young man who had such a profound impact on his friends and family as well as a tremendous love for his country.

William H. Carpenter was born and raised at 6743 Ditman Street. He attended St. Leo's School and was a 1966 graduate of Father Judge High School, where he achieved outstanding grades. Billy's favorite subject was history and he was an avid reader. When he wasn't reading he could be found spending time at the Disston Recreation Center.

In basketball, Billy was an outstanding center as he was big and strong. In football, he was a great tight end with good speed and excellent hands. On nearly any given day, Billy spent some time at the Disston Recreation Center ("The Rec") playing ball, hanging out, talking with buddies, or simply reading, until his graduation from Father Judge High School.

At the time of Billy's graduation in 1966, the war in Southeast Asia was raging. Billy's sense of patriotism was stronger than his desire for college as he unselfishly enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He swiftly proceeded through Paris Island, Camp Lejune, and to electronics school as a radio operator. It was early fall in 1967 when Billy received orders for duty in Vietnam. He was assigned to the First Marine Division as a radio operator on a Forward Air Controller Team.

Forward Air Controller (F.A.C.) team members represented a volunteer force responsible for calling in and directing air support for ground operations. In addition, they directed air evacuation of the wounded. The F.A.C. team members are typically the first into battle and the last out. This is truly one of the most dangerous and critical jobs in the Marine Corps.

By early December, 1967, Billy had been assigned to Special Landing Force Bravo within the ranks of the 3rd Battalion, First Marine Division. Operation Badger Tooth, which commenced on December 26, 1967, was to be the last commitment for Special Landing Force Bravo in that year. Billy was traveling with Rifle Company "K" when the operation started at 1100 hours. Company L landed over Green Beach and proceeded to Landing Zone Finch, which was located slightly more than three kilometers inland from the beach on the southern Quang Tri Province border. (see map below)

The Operation was to be a somewhat difficult task. The proposed objective area was located on the extreme westerly side of what was called the "Street Without Joy." Intelligence estimates placed as a many as 1700 enemy troops in the vicinity of the operation. Within five and a half hours, Company K suffered the first casualty of Operation Badger Tooth when automatic weapons fire west of Landing Zone Finch struck a Marine.

Colonel Schmidt, the Commander of the Special Landing Force, then commanded the Battalion Landing Team to change direction and "sweep" the coastal villages of Tham Ke and Trung An. On the evening of December 26, Companies L and M executed sweeps of both villages. Both towns were found to contain little evidence of the presence of Communist formations as the Marines killed only three Viet Cong and detained four. Unfortunately for Billy Carpenter and his fellow Marines, the search would have soon proved inadequate.

At 0700 hours on the morning of December 27, Companies L and M embarked on another "sweep" of the two villages. Company M moved out to the northeast to cover Trung An while Company L moved south to cover Tham Ke. As the leading platoon of Company L approached the edge of the village, a tremendous volume of enemy fire opened up from various sources including machine guns, rifles, and mortars. The Company initially suffered many casualties including Captain Thomas S. Hubble and his battalion "Tac-net" radio operator.

Lieutenant Colonel McQuown, during a period in which all communications were temporarily lost with the company, ordered Company M to move southeast in support of Company L. Almost instantly, Company M cam under heavy fire. Company I was ordered to the south of Tham Ke while the Special Landing Force was ordered to land the tank platoon. At this point, Billy Carpenter and Rifle Company K were instructed to take the pressure off Companies L and M by attacking the south end of Tham Ke.

Before too long, Company K found itself surrounded in an open field by a large enemy force. Billy's Forward Air Controller team was ordered to the front to direct an air strike. Company K attacked against fierce resistance, all the while prepping the area with 81 mm mortar fire. There was very little cover, however, Billy knew that his job was to advance to a position where he could observe the enemy fire.

As Billy was advancing, he was shot through the legs and somehow continue directing mortar strikes on the enemy. As he valiantly continued to advance in an effort to carry out his mission, he expired after a loss of blood. Air support did eventually arrive and the Marines secured their position. Despite the successful mission, forty-six Marines lost their lives in the battle in addition to Billy Carpenter.

A search of Tham Ke on the morning of December 28 revealed a defensive fortress complete with a network of underground tunnels supporting ground level bunkers for massive amounts of weaponry. All defensive preparation was camouflaged with growing vegetation. Upon inquiry after the battle, local residents disclosed that the North Vietnamese Army had been preparing the defense of the village since late 1966. Obviously, in preparing for the operation, the Marines were not expecting the presence of such a formidable force whose magnitude and intense preparation made it difficult to overtake. The same statement would apply eventually to the entire Vietnam War in general.

Billy Carpenter was one of many thousands of young men who gave their lives for the cause of liberty. In addition, seven others from Tacony lost their lives in the Vietnam War. Their spirit, determination, and love for freedom and democracy are an inspiration to us all and are the reason we have remained, for over 220 years, "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

As we dedicate Disston Recreation Center's gymnasium today in the memory of a young man whose feet once competitively pounced upon it and whose voice once echoed through it, let us remember that although time passes by, it cannot erase those memories created through love and friendship. In closing, let us reflect on the following passage which was prepared by Tom Fenerty, Billy's best friend, upon the Testimonial Dinner held in Billy's honor on March 28, 1987, for which he was program chairman:

My sons and all our children should know and remember
the deeds of Billy Carpenter and the 58,000 men who gave their lives in Vietnam. Should our country ever again become involved in a struggle against Communist aggression, our sons will know and be ready to stand strong in defense of our nation's freedom. Hail and farewell, Bill, we will never forget.

In addition to Billy Carpenter, there were several other young men from our Tacony neighborhood who served our country and were killed in Vietnam. Please, remember them in your thoughts and prayers...

Date of Birth
Date of Death
Pvt. William H. Carpenter, Jr.
Cpl. Clement J. Grassi
Lance Cpl. James P. Harkanson
Cpl. Donald J. Hertrich
Staff Sgt. Bernard F. Kissel
Maj. Rev. Aloysius P. McGonigal
Lance Cpl. Robert A. Ryan
Sgt. Edward F. Zackowski

The Dedication Plaque in the Disston Recreation Center reads as follows:

Dedicated in Memory of
Pvt. William H. Carpenter, USMC
Killed in action in Vietnam
December 27, 1967

Billy spent many hours playing sports at Disston Recreation Center. He loved sports and played with intensity, the same way he lived his life. In 1966 he graduated from Father Judge High School, at a time when our country was engaged in a war in Southeast Asia. Without hesitation Billy volunteered and served with honor and distinction. He gave his life for freedom that others might enjoy the facilities such as this gym.

This gymnasium is dedicated to the memory and service of Billy and the other Tacony men who gave their lives and all Americans who served their country in Vietnam.

In Memoriam

Pvt. William Carpenter

Cpl. Clement Grassi
LCpl. James Harkanson

Cpl. Donald Hertrich
SSgt. Bernard Kissel

Maj. Rev. Al McGonigal
LCpl. Robert Ryan

Sgt. Edward Zakowski

"Greater love than this no one has, that one lay
down his life for his friends." John 15:13

Special thanks to Tom Fenerty in helping with the compilation of this year's profile.


  1. Bill (Carpy) here it is another year where I wonder what we both would have been doing the past 43 years. I'm sure we would have remained in touch. I know your "guarding those streets" we sing about in our Marine Corps hym. When we sing that verse I think of you and what a grand reunion "OURS" will soon. You take care buddy--SEMPER SEMPER FI------FRED

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