His band of brothers
They were some of the best in their class. Bob Carpenter, of Punta Gorda, Dennis Maki and Richard Kozlowski all graduated from Air Force intelligence training with top honors — and a camaraderie that would transcend the years.
They were overwhelming memories that came to the front during a recent reunion with Maki — whom he had not seen for 50 years.
“Dennis now lives in Fremont, Neb., and he found me on Facebook,” Carpenter said. “We started communicating and his wife, Diana, bought him a ticket to come visit me in Florida. She wanted him out of the house while she packed to move.”
The days together were spent reliving the past.
“Dennis was heavier and he had a gold tooth replaced. I would not have known him if I passed him on the street.
“We went all over the place but we sat and talked so much, too. I’m not sure how many times we said ‘remember when.’ We went over the good, bad and ugly.”
Carpenter said the visit gave him some closure since he had attended Kozlowski’s funeral a year or so ago.
The three friends spent years gathering intelligence in places like Crete and Vietnam. While they often took different paths in their duties, they always stayed together, usually working out of the same building.
“When we got out of tech school they sent us to Greece,” Carpenter said. “We were all trained as Soviet analysts. Maki, though, was the only one that continued to monitor the Soviets. I became a Turkish analyst. I went downtown and bought two Turkish language books to learn the language and became a self-appointed Turkish linguist.”
One of Carpenter’s first big discoveries earned him a commendation when he translated a message about a bomb planted at the American embassy in Nicosia.
“They got everyone out, but the building blew up. That was in 1964. Generals flew in and gave me a commendation but it was all secret — like spy stuff. I guess 50 years later I can talk about it.”
When sent back to the U.S., the trio of friends became even closer as they spent weekends in Corpus Christi, Texas, doing things young men do.
Carpenter said he became bored with the job of counting Soviet aircraft coming into Cuba. So, all three volunteered to go to Vietnam, just as the conflict there was expanding.
“That mission was out of this world,” he said. “We sent out drones over China and did some great reconnaissance.”
When that assignment ended, and the three returned to the U.S., Carpenter volunteered to extend his enlistment and return to Vietnam.
“I was flying in EC47s and locking the pilot and co-pilot in the cockpit and telling them where I had to go to monitor ground communications. We’d find a target and called in the bombers.”
Carpenter’s life after active duty took him back to the U.S. where he earned a degree at Kent State University. Ironically, he was there during the infamous protests that led to National Guardsmen killing four students and wounding nine on May 4, 1970. He was one of 1,500 or so Vietnam vets on a campus of 20,000 students. It was an odd time as demonstrators against the war often clashed with the ex-military men — including Carpenter, who had his own radio show.
His experiences there are enough for a whole new column someday.
When he retired from the sheriff’s office, Carpenter spent a lot of time traveling with wife Kaye. Those trips led him back to countries he first experienced as a young Air Force analyst.
“We went to Crete and I showed her some places we were. I took another cruise to Beijing and Singapore and I had two days in Saigon. Some veterans wouldn’t get off the ship and go to Saigon, but I enjoyed it.
“We went to this one hotel where I used to sit and drink Coca-Cola and the general manager came out and welcomed me back to his country. You would never know that Vietnam was a communist country the way people acted.
“They called the war the American War and the presidential palace is like a museum with American Jeeps and aircraft displayed.”
A lot of memories.
And seeing Maki made them all real again.
“You never lose that camaraderie,” Carpenter said. “Those guys are my brothers.”