John Herbert Carpenter
John Herbert Carpenter
  • August 25, 1953 - June 19, 2017
  • Mclean, Virginia

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John Herbert Carpenter
Aug. 25, 1953 - June 19, 2017

John Herbert Carpenter was born at Tachikawa Air Force Base in Japan on August 25, 1953 to Claude and Elona Carpenter. Claude was serving in the Air Force. John was the third child in the family joining two older sisters, Linda and Wendy. Only two weeks after being born, he traveled with his mother and his two older sisters across the Pacific Ocean back to America. His middle name, Herbert, was the name of his grandfather, Herbert Ferdinand Carpenter.

His early life was characterized by multiple moves as his father served in the Air Force with stints both inside and outside the United States. John's third sister, Claudia, was born in England. His father worked as a ROTC commander at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. My dad described many memories from this time period - mostly involving swimming and baseball. He played catcher on local youth baseball teams. He loved to tell the story of how he learned to swim. His parents had been visiting a swim club to decide whether to join. He said he just jumped in. Neither of his parents knew how to swim and felt very helpless. However, John learned right away and was soon on the swim team. He was tall for his age (6) and dominated the local swim league in the 8 and under division. His older sisters also began to swim, as well. His mother even coached the swim team, but she never learned to swim. This activity served to unite his family on summer mornings. He attended a Catholic Elementary school and had a few stories about being corrected by the nuns. In a telling class picture, he is shown standing next to his nun/teacher - the place reserved for the child who needed the most direction.

His father's work soon moved the family to northern Virginia where they settled into a home on 8th Place in McLean, Virginia. John spent the rest of his youth here. The suburbs of DC were a relatively new thing and McLean was far different from what it is now. While living there John worked as a shoe store salesman at Tyson's Corner and enjoyed bowling at the local bowling alley and reading comic books purchased from Dart Drug. He attended Cooper Middle School followed by Langley High School. School divisions were changed and he ended up graduating from McLean High School in 1971. He was an excellent test-taker and did well in school. He also sang in the Madrigals, an a cappella group. He loved reading science fiction novels written by Heinlein, Clark and others. He was captivated by the idea of Outer Space. With the landing on the moon a few weeks before his sixteenth birthday, the entire Solar System seemed destined to be explored in his lifetime. With two older sisters in college, John looked for a way to help pay for college. His parents were very proud when he was accepted at West Point.

The Vietnam War was still going on when he entered USMA. He remembered protestors outside the gates. He also remembered hearing the announcements from the poop deck during meals that announced the death of recent graduates. War fighting did not come naturally to him and despite growing up in a military household, he had not spent significant time camping, shooting, or playing in the woods. Basic training presented challenges as he entered West Point. Having his leg in a cast did not help. After absorbing a few body blows and struggling with home sickness, he gradually saw the wisdom and the benefit to the disciplined life style that the military academy provided. He was befriended by a 'cow' or junior named Bill Fox after joining the bowling team. My dad always jokingly said that he joined the bowling team because he looked for the team with the most road dates (or opportunities to get away from West Point). Bill's friendship made things easier. This was another turning point in his life.

Bill was dating Wendy Galing whose best friend, Kathy Rexrode would often hang around as a chaperone. Bill then decided to bring John along to distract the chaperone. Bill's plan was successful. He eventually married Wendy and John eventually married Kathy. John continued to date Kathy as he went through Combat Engineers Officer basic course in Ft. Belvoir, VA. He also earned his airborne award at Fort Benning and his air assault badge. He started his service as a second lieutenant at Fort Campbell, Kentucky as part of the 101st Airborne unit. This assignment allowed him to wear the 'blue beret'.

He married Kathy on July 31st 1976. Their first child, Julia was born on Christmas Eve the following year. This time was characterized by many trips to the field where he would 'build stuff and then blow it up'. Both jobs critical to the success of a combat engineering group. During one of his stints in the field, he lost his wedding ring. He had his whole unit line up and walk down an area in the woods looking for it, but to no avail. After his time in Kentucky, he went to Ft. Belvoir for advanced training and then to Osan Air Base in Korea where he helped build runways, the water treatment plant and other buildings. Unlike some trips to Korea (a common hardship tour location) John was able to bring Kathy and Julia with him.

Just before the birth of his second child, John Stuart, the family moved to Boston where he obtained a master's degree in Civil Engineering at MIT while being mentored by Herbert Einstein, Albert Einstein's nephew. John's next assignment was the Defense Nuclear Agency in Virginia . This allowed him to travel to Los Alamos, New Mexico and the Pacific islands associated with the nation's nuclear program.
Robert was born while the family was living in Burke, Va. Soon after, the family moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas so John could