State to mark day with observances

Published 11:38 pm Monday, November 10, 2008

JACKSON (AP) — Walter Carpenter’s travels during his 30-year Army career included places etched in the annals of history during and after World War II.

His tours of duty included Munich, Vienna and Berlin — key points on Eastern Europe’s political tectonic plates as they shifted with the start of the Cold War.

Memories of the war-torn continent and later work at the Pentagon are side-by-side in Carpenter’s mind with images of Vicksburg when he was a 22-year-old sergeant assigned to guard the U.S. Highway 80 Bridge across the Mississippi River.

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On Tuesday, Carpenter and veterans like him will be honored in Veterans Day ceremonies across Mississippi.

Campus events are scheduled all week at Mississippi State to commemorate the holiday. A memorial service was set at the Vicksburg National Military Park and at the University of Mississippi, a public ceremony was to be held Tuesday to celebrate Veterans Day.

‘‘Many people don’t see Veterans Day as very different from Memorial Day, but it is,’’ said Ronnie White, transition coordinator for MSU’s G.V. ‘‘Sonny’’ Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans, in a news release. ‘‘While Memorial Day remembers our fallen soldiers, Veterans Day recognizes their service and pays tribute to both current and former service personnel.’’

Former service men like Carpenter, who was called to Vicksburg immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Carpenter, who is now 89 and living in Bend, Ore., stood with about 20 others in his infantry division near approaches to the bridge as the military moved to protect the nation’s key physical structures. The bridge, now used only for rail traffic, had opened 11 years before Pearl Harbor as the final link in the nation’s first coast-to-coast all-weather paved highway.

He also guarded the railroad bridge across the Yazoo River at Redwood.

‘‘In those days, everybody was near-hysterical about the beginning of World War II with Japan,’’ Carpenter recalled. ‘‘Everybody was scared the Japanese would blow up the bridge,’’ he said. ‘‘We weren’t scared. We were doing our jobs.’’

The start of the Korean War put Carpenter back on active duty, and he was assigned to CIA offices in Washington, D.C. His eventual rise to lieutenant colonel included a stint as commanding officer for the Joint Allied Refugee Operations Center in Allied-occupied West Berlin, divided for 40 years from Soviet-controlled East Berlin.

Though he didn’t return to Vicksburg, the veteran of two wars hasn’t forgotten the bone-chilling winter nights he spent atop the bridges in Mississippi.

‘‘Although I’m 89 now, I clearly remember those anxious days,’’ said Carpenter, who was stationed at Camp Shelby back then.

Items loaned by Camp Shelby’s military museum at the Forrest County training center will be on a weeklong display at Mississippi State. They feature artifacts and memorabilia from most American military conflicts since WWII.

The university also has planned a special luncheon for veterans on Thursday. The program will include a documentary on World War II.