The Carpenter Brothers 1969-1970

Many brothers served concurrently in Viet Nam, and several brothers served together in the 5th Special Forces Group. The Carpenter brothers served together in Project Delta.

Derick and Steve Carpenter were the first and second of seven children raised in upstate rural New York. Their father, an elementary school principal, was a veteran of the North Africa campaign in WWII, and all three of his brothers were veterans of action in Europe and the South Pacific. Their mother, a registered nurse, was a member of the Nurses’ Corps stationed in New York City during that war. Even so, it surprised many when the two brothers, both high school athletes and honor students, abandoned their college efforts in 1967 and enlisted in the army a month apart. The escalating activity in Viet Nam had caused increasing unrest on college campuses around the nation and the truth of the conflict was indiscernible. That, coupled with the fact that several friends, neighbors, and high school classmates had been killed or wounded, prompted the two to go and see for themselves what the real story was. Both figured that the easiest way to get to the middle of it was to enlist in the outfits historically on the front lines. They both enlisted with a guarantee that they would go to the airborne infantry. There just happened to be a couple of slots open.

Derick was selected for Military Police school at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and then went to jump school at Fort Benning. He was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg and went about being a military policeman. He submitted request after request for assignment to Viet Nam and got nowhere until December of 1968, when the father of an old girl friend, a three star general, intervened on his behalf and he was assigned to an MP Brigade in Bien Hoa. After a few months chasing VC through plantations during Tet of 69, he volunteered for the PBR unit at Vung Ro Bay.

In the mean time, Steve went through the advanced infantry training at Camp Crockett in Fort Gordon. From there he went on to jump school and was recruited for Special Forces Training at Fort Bragg. After completing the Phase I training and the first 12 weeks of medic training, he became stalled awaiting new classes for the 52 week school at Fort Sam Houston. A very rare opportunity to attend the SF Operations and Intelligence course arose from a critical shortage of that MOS in Viet Nam. The O&I course was reserved for the very senior NCOs in SF. Along with the MOS came a guaranteed assignment to the 5th SFGA. Immediately upon graduation, Steve received orders to 5th Group and reported in April 1969. During the Combat Orientation Course in Nha Trang, all the young O&I specialists were made aware of the special operations detachments and encouraged to apply their new found wisdom there. Steve volunteered for Project Delta. After completing the MACV Recondo school, he reported to the recon section.

Upon his return from his first FOB at An Hoa, Steve was surprised by a visit from Derick at the Project’s Nha Trang home base. Derick spent a couple of days engaged in the antics of the boys on stand down and determined that he would like to stay. After plying himself with some fuel from the Delta Hilton, he approached Doc Simpson with the notion that he, too, would like to run recon. Doc interviewed him and agreed that if he could pass the MACV Recondo school course he could join Delta. Over the course of the next two months the reassignment was made.

For the remainder of the year, the two brothers were assigned to various recon teams to be mentored and field tested. Doc’s rules were simple; the brothers were not allowed to run together on the same team, be on the ground at the same time, or accompany the Nungs together on immediate reaction missions. For the most part the missions were routine for the Project, which is to say that they were exciting, and at times, frightening. Each was involved in pursuit by enemy forces, hot LZs, discovery of enemy routes and positions and engagements with enemy troops. Neither was involved in any epic engagement that turned the tide of the war. They continued to volunteer for missions and do their jobs.

As the effort to turn all military activities over to the VN gained momentum, more requests for extended duty were denied. Steve was sent home in April, 1970, after one year in-country, and was assigned as an instructor at the Special Forces Training Group at Fort Bragg until he left the service to get married and return to Cornell University at the end of August. He earned his BS in 1974. Derick stayed until July of 1970, near the shut down date of Project Delta. He was discharged and resumed his college career at Albany State. He earned his BS and MS in psychology.

Steve went on and had a successful career in the highly emotionally charged field of nuclear and hazardous waste and eventually held positions as an officer of several public and private companies. He is now retired on full disability and lives in Idaho with his wife of 35 years,
Paula.  They have one son, Steve, who graduated from MSU in Bozeman, MT in December 2004. Derick spent a few years evaluating mental health programs for the State of New York, first as an employee, and then as a private consultant. His behavior became erratic and he developed seizures. He turned to the VA for help. In return, he received a letter that threatened a lawsuit if he persisted in his story of serving in a classified special operations unit in RVN. He had become totally unable to function in society and was finally declared disabled by the VA for PTSD. He retreated to his frame construction cabin in the Adirondacks and lived a primitive life style with only a generator for electricity, and a spring for fresh water. He heated the cabin with wood. He subsisted on rehydrated noodles similar to the soup mix that the recon section used to make while at FOBs. He had a three legged dog and a couple of cats for company and began to drink heavily instead of taking his medication. In the summer of 1992, Steve, then living in Wyoming, returned to the Adirondacks with his family to visit Derick and their mother, who lives nearby. He discovered Derick living in filth and far beyond coherent. He loaded him into the rental car and headed the 200 miles to the VA center in Albany. Steve left Derick in the care of a seasoned psychiatrist that Derick trusted and told him to plan on keeping him there for the rest of his life. He just couldn’t care for himself any more. This act of intervention was perhaps the hardest thing Steve ever did in his life.

As it turned out, the VA put a full court press on Derick’s condition and finally, after 22 years, correctly diagnosed him with cerebral malaria. While certainly not great news, it explained the symptoms and behavior and provided a clear path for treatment. By mid 1993, Derick had checked himself out of the VA hospital, returned to his cabin and began leading a much more normal life. Late in the fall he voluntarily returned to the VA for a tune up. On December 16th, 1993, Derick, upon hearing that his mother had had some major surgery, checked himself out of the hospital and returned to his cabin to be near her. That night he stoked his fire, took his medicine, and went to sleep. Early in the morning of December 17th, his chimney ignited, followed by the rest of the cabin. He and his three legged dog never woke up. The only items that survived the fire were Derick’s Delta ring and his engraved Zippo lighter, which says, “They may not like us, but they’ll never forget us. Detachment B-52 Project Delta.”

Steve Carpenter's Photo Collection