Feature- 4-war veteran still serving

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brigitte N. Brantley
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
 By the time service members traveling to Korea and Japan are done checking in their bags at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport USO, many have befriended someone who has walked the path before them.

Retired U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Evert "Sarge" Carter, a USO volunteer and veteran of four wars, exemplifies the phrase "Still Serving."

"Airborne all the way, man," Sarge sounds off to an active-duty Soldier passing through the airport.

"Alright, first sergeant, feet and knees together!" replies the Soldier -- a common reply among Army airborne brethren.

The 88-year-old veteran retired in 1974 after serving more than 30 years in combat and support roles during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War.

"When I originally joined, volunteering was the thing to do. We wanted to fight the Japanese, fight the Germans," said Sarge, who still wears his original notched dog tags. "Everyone wanted to get in. I saw guys cry because they couldn't."

He wasn't the only member of his family to serve during WWII -- his father served in the Navy, his mother in the Coast Guard and his sister in the Women's Army Corps. His son would later serve as a medic during the Vietnam War.

The then-18-year-old Army recruit who had already served two years in the Merchant Marine as an engine room wiper was sent across the Pacific Ocean to serve under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur as part of the 158th Regimental Combat Team, better known as the "Bushmasters" for their jungle-fighting techniques.

The day of July 2, 1944, found his unit making an amphibious assault landing on the island of Saipan.

"The first thing to do on the beach was for the two-man color guard to get the American flag up," said Sarge. "A sniper got one of the men doing it, so the other grabbed it and got it up."

Sarge was on the fourth wave of tanks making the approach, which coincided with low tide and exposed the tracks to coral reefs, causing them to abandon the tank. Gunfire from the coast was moving closer, starting 100 yards out but soon going right over his head.

"Reese, the guy right next to me, got shot by a sniper through the helmet," said Sarge. "Somehow he didn't die then, so we dragged him with us as we swam away from the tank. We weren't 15 feet from the tank when it was hit."

Only five of the 17 Soldiers onboard made it alive to shore. With no tank to maintain, Sarge and the four others worked to set up defenses. All of a sudden, nearly 100 Japanese soldiers poured out of a cave just 200 yards away, their officer in charge leading the way with a saber and a pistol.

"It was supposed to be safe ... we hadn't expected problems there," said Sarge. "The gunner got taken out, so I took over the gun and started shooting."

The team proceeded to kill the enemy and secure the area, then eventually the entire island. After World War II, Sarge took a short break in service and attended a stenographer's school. This is when a classmate introduced him to his future wife.

"My friend kept telling me about his sister, so I said, 'Boy, I sure want to meet this little sister,' and I went home on break with him," said Sarge. "There was a 1935 Chevy with yellow wheels in the driveway, and she had the rascal jacked up and she was under the car working on those yellow wheels.

"I said, 'That's the girl for me.' She's only 4 feet, 9 inches, but dynamite comes in small packages. I proposed after eight dates, but she told me to hold on.

"Now, we've been married 65 years," he added.

1950 found him stationed in Japan when word came that units were being sent to prevent North Korean forces from moving southward. Task Force Smith was sent to stop the advance of troops from the communist country, becoming "the first U.S. ground battle of the Korean War," according to army.mil.

But during the Battle of Osan, the Americans were heavily outnumbered and didn't have the necessary tools to delay the advancing tanks for very long. They ended up retreating. Dozens on the task force were killed, captured or wounded, but Sarge lived to fight another war.

This time, his service in Vietnam dealt with intelligence.

"I have lots of stories to tell, but I can't tell you any of them," said Sarge. "Everything was classified. I had a NATO secret clearance and when I retired, I had to sign three documents agreeing I wouldn't discuss what I had done."

During the Cold War, Sarge spent four years in Alaska as part of the 2nd Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division as a ski instructor at the Cold Weather and Mountain School.

"The Cold War wasn't as 'cold' as you think -- men were dying, but most people don't know that," he said. "We operated at up to 55 below zero and had to be able to operate the same on skis. We had to fire on target, herringbone around, shoot at bobbing targets, dig snow caves. You always traveled with at least two men."

Sarge spent time in other assignments before retiring in 1974 and having a second career as a master locksmith. Now, volunteering could almost be considered his third career.

Over the past 13 years, he has volunteered for 8,500 hours at the local Veterans Administration hospital and an additional 3,000 hours at the USO and Tahoma National Cemetery, where he serves as the sergeant-at-arms for their honor guard.

"Everyone buried there is a veteran, but most are not as old as I am and served during later wars," he said. "There are so many coming in, they only get half an hour for their final service. I do what I can to honor them."

Sarge said what he enjoys most about volunteering with the USO is getting to meet and interact with the in-transit Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.

He wears his old military jacket and cap, covered in patches and pins of the units he served with and the conflicts he served in. His jacket pockets, what he calls his filing cabinet, hold proof of awards, pictures from his adventures, letters of appreciation for his lengthy service and membership cards for all the war associations he belongs to.

"I brag a lot, but I have a lot to show for it," he said. "I loved the military -- I made a home there. I enjoy being with the troops, and that's why I'm still serving."