At age 19, Marine Pfc. Bruce Carter fought off a swarming enemy in 1969, then threw his body on a grenade to save his buddies during a close-quarters battle in Vietnam’s Quang Tri province.
His actions with H Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, earned him a posthumous Medal of Honor, and he was laid to rest at Vista Memorial Gardens in Miami Lakes, Florida.
Over the years, his mother, Georgie Carter-Krell, came to think that it would be best for her son’s memory to have his final resting place be with more than 400,000 of the nation’s heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.
Carter-Krell, who had been a receptionist at a huge Department of Veterans Affairs facility named for her son, the Bruce W. Carter Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Miami, worked with the Marine Corps and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, to make it happen.
It has been rare in recent years, though not unprecedented, for the remains of those killed in battle to be reburied at Arlington. Last year, Army Pfc. Lamar Williams, who was killed in Vietnam in January 1971 shortly after his 21st birthday, was reburied there.
On Oct. 30, motorcycle units from the Miami-Dade Police Department escorted the hearse carrying Carter’s flag-draped casket to the Miami airport. Marines and police stood at attention as pallbearers placed his remains aboard a waiting American Airlines flight to Washington, D.C.
The 90-year-old Carter-Krell said in a statement at the airport ceremony: “We have finally achieved what should have been done 50 years ago.”
Airport fire trucks sent up huge sprays of water, forming an arc that the aircraft passed under on the way to take off.
On Wednesday, Carter’s remains were reburied with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60, where more than 900 of those who fell in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have their last resting place.
His casket was escorted by Marines from Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C.; the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard); and “The President’s Own” Marine Band.
Carter was born in Schenectady, New York, in 1950. He attended schools in Miami Springs, Florida, and later West Jefferson High School in Wego, Louisiana, where he dropped out in August 1968.
In April 1969, he was a radio operator with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, in Vietnam’s “I Corps,” the area bordering North Vietnam at the Demilitarized Zone.
The 3rd Marine Division had to adapt to numerous types of terrain in I Corps during some of the heaviest fighting of the war, from the rice-paddy flats along the coast at Cua Viet, to the scrub and rolling hills in central areas, and the triple-canopy jungle west of Khe Sanh.
The enemy was made up of main force North Vietnamese regulars. Much of the action for Marines was in small-unit patrols, interspersed with larger operations that had names such as Prairie III, Hickory, Cimarron, Buffalo, Kingfisher and Kentucky.
For Carter and his battalion in August 1969, it was Operation Idaho Canyon, north of a strange outcropping in central I Corps that rose to 790 feet and was called the “Rockpile” by Marines.
On Aug. 7, Carter’s H Company came under a “heavy volume of fire from a numerically superior hostile force.” He was with the lead element, which became separated from the rest of the company by a brush fire that was started by the fighting, according to his medal citation and Marine histories.
Carter exposed himself to enemy fire to deliver return fire, giving the Marines in the lead element a chance to link up again with the main body of H Company.
“Shouting directions to the Marines around him, Private First Class Carter then commenced leading them from the path of the rapidly approaching brush fire when he observed a hostile grenade land between him and his companions,” the medal citation states. “Fully aware of the probable consequences of his action, but determined to protect the men following him, he unhesitatingly threw himself over the grenade, absorbing the full effects of its detonation with his own body. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.”
Carter’s mother received the posthumous award of the Medal of Honor from then-Vice President Spiro Agnew in a White House ceremony in September 1971.
In a statement issued last week, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said, “Finally, this brave Marine is being laid to rest at the Arlington National Cemetery, where he belongs.”
Wilkie praised Diaz-Balart for his help in arranging the reburial and thanked Carter-Krell “for going above and beyond to ensure her son receives the burial he always deserved.”
“Fifty years have passed, and Pfc. Bruce Carter’s legacy remains strong,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement.
The burial at Arlington was “a tribute to his heroism,” he added, and also a reminder that a life lost in battle “is always valued, no matter how much time has passed.”
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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