Monday, March 06, 2006


Duty still calls for former Marine at PTI
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GREENSBORO — Despite the planning, cutting through red tape and security clearances, Jim Carter encounters what the military calls the SNAFUs.

Recently, at Piedmont Triad International Airport, Carter arranged for the mother of a female Marine to get around the security screening and be poised at the gate to embrace her daughter, who was arriving for a break from Iraq.

Carter and the mother were supposed to meet at a certain place. They missed connections. Once they linked, the daughter had already reached the baggage carousel.

The emotional moment had been missed.

But that hasn't happened often, says Carter, who runs a virtual USO at PTI, although it's not in his mission statement as director of security, chief of communications and airport police reserve officer.

He tries to make reunions joyous for troops returning for brief breaks from the war. He seeks to dignify sad occasions for families whose loved ones arrive in caskets.

"Picture a former Marine carrying an Army captain's duffle bag to the car," Bettie Stocks Rhodes, of Reidsville, says in an e-mail to the News & Record after her son-in-law, Capt. Ben Shepherd, arrived from Iraq recently for a two-week stay.

"Efficiently, quietly and humbly, Jim Carter honors and assists soldiers arriving ...

"My deepest gratitude goes to Jim Carter, who continues to serve his country."

Carter was a sergeant and later a warrant officer in the Marines.

In helping military people and parents, he wants them to avoid what he encountered upon returning from a second tour in Vietnam in 1969.

At the airport in Los Angeles, a "flower child," he says, tried to cram a flower into the medals and ribbons on his uniform.

"Don't touch me or the uniform, and don't spit on me, and we'll get along fine," he recalled saying.

She uttered something about him being a baby killer.

Thousands of returning Vietnam veterans experienced similar hostility. Or they felt ignored.

Even though the war in Iraq may be as unpopular to some people as Vietnam, Carter hasn't witnessed the same hostility toward those fighting it.

He felt goose bumps when he watched a uniformed Marine lieutenant, his ankle broken from a chopper crash, refuse a wheelchair. He hobbled on crutches the length of the concourse. Travelers at gates arose in applause.

"I am glad people finally woke up," Carter says. "The troops out there are not the enemy."

He says his eyes welled when an airline pilot delayed departure until Marines in dress blues finished lifting a casket covered with an American flag and carried it to a hearse.

Carter always arranges for grieving families to be near the plane.

One woman, he says, ran "and kissed her son's casket."

The father of another dead Marine kept repeating: "I should have never let him out of my sight."

Later, Carter says, the man conceded that his son, who had re-enlisted, "died doing what he wanted to do."

Carter gave the Marines 27 years.

"I miss the heck out of the Corps," he says.

That's obvious from his office decor -- outfitted in Marine red and gold. It beats any Marine recruiting station. It's jammed with Marine plaques, figurines, models of the Iwo Jima statue, photos of his old units, recruiting posters, one of his former uniform jackets in a frame and posters bearing gung-ho slogans.

"It's God's job to judge the terrorists. It's our mission to arrange the meeting," a sticker on a desk drawer says.

He gets irritated at the geographical illiteracy of young Marines. They land at PTI and seek a cab to Camp Lejeune. They think the base is nearby, not 200 miles away.

"Do you have $300 for a cab to Lejeune," Carter asks them.

A dozen times he has driven Marines to the bus station and bought them a ticket to Lejeune. He warns they'd better repay him next payday. Only two have stiffed him.

The Alabama native quit high school to join the Marines in 1960, rose to sergeant and became a warrant officer in 1969. Later, he spent five years on the inspector and instructor staff with the Greensboro Marine Corps Reserve unit. The I&I staff are regular Marines who assist reservists.

During that time, 241 Marines were killed in 1983 during a terrorist attack on a barracks in Beirut, He and the I&I staff knocked on doors to tell two Greensboro-area parents their sons were dead. The staff served as honor guards at the casket arrivals and at the burials.

Parental reactions, he says, range from emotional outbreaks and anger to quiet acceptance. In the Beirut bombing, one woman believed that because her son's finger had been found, the rest of him was in a hospital recovering.

When Carter retired from the Marines in 1988, he returned to the area to a house he bought while on I&I duty and went to work for the airport police.

Homecomings on furloughs and leaves from Iraq are happy times, though the returns two weeks afterward aren't. When Shepherd, the captain whose duffel bag Carter had carried to the car when he arrived, had to return to the war, Carter was there. He says the captain slid a letter into the stroller of the baby he had seen for the first time when he came home.

Carter says he couldn't do what he does without the cooperation of airport manager Ted Johnson and others. He wishes he could do more -- and wishes some parents would, too.

"I'll see a soldier up there," he says, "and no one is with him. Someone should be there to see that person off."

Contact Jim Schlosser at 373-7081 or

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