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Carpenter knew early on where he wanted to go, and his life as a soldier grew out of the most wounding trauma of his childhood years. He was born in Woodbury, N.J., in 1937, the only child of a semipro football player and car salesman, William ST., and his wife, Helen. "I never got up during the night with that child," says Helen. "His daddy always did: 'You have him all day; he's mine at night.' "
After the Army drafted William in 1944, at age 36, he and the boy exchanged letters frequently. On April 11, 1945, one month before the war ended in Europe, Carpenter was killed by a German artillery round. The boy was 7½. "I was worried about him," says Helen. "I knew he was grieving inwardly. He wasn't eating like he should, he wasn't playing like he should, he wasn't himself."
Helen remarried in 1947—gentle Clifford Dunn would soon become the comptroller at the Philadelphia Navy Yard—and the man and the boy became like father and son. Carpenter recalls listening to Army football games on the radio in the days of Blanchard and Davis, and those games drew him toward football and the Point. At Springfield High, outside Philadelphia, he was a sprinter with 9.9 speed in the 100-yard dash and, at 6'2", 200 pounds, a halfback in football with strength and sure hands.
A score of colleges pursued him as a player, but all it took was one visit to West Point and the issue was settled. Those were still glory days for Army football, when the Army-Navy game was treated like Armageddon and Army football heroes glowed in the dark. In the season of 1958, Carpenter's junior year, no player glowed brighter than halfback Pete Dawkins—captain of the corps of cadets, captain of an undefeated team (8-0-1) and winner of the Heisman Trophy. Carpenter, not a man to mince words, says, "I think Pete was vastly overrated. There were seven or eight players who were better. Bill Rowe and Bob Novogratz were great linemen, and Bob Anderson was a better halfback." End Don Usry, he says, was the team's best all-around player.
Army was ranked third nationally in '58. Pittsburgh held the Black Knights to a 14-14 tie, but they whipped Penn State 26-0 and Notre Dame 14-2. That year coach Earl (Red) Blaik introduced him as the Lonely End. Sportswriter Stanley Woodward was the first to use the term in print, and it gradually evolved into the Lonesome End over Blaik's protestations.
Blaik decided to keep Carpenter out in the fiat during huddles because he was lining up as a "far flanker," and Blaik feared the young man would wear out dashing back and forth between plays. In '58 Carpenter tied the Army record for receptions in a season, with 22. He gained 453 yards and scored two touchdowns, and on the train ride home after Army had licked Navy 22-6 in the year's final game, the Cadets elected Carpenter their captain for 1959.
It is not a season fondly remembered. Cursed by one injury after another, Army went 4-4-1 under Dale Hall, who had replaced the retired Blaik. Carpenter was everyone's All-America that season, catching 43 passes for 591 yards, both single-season Army records that would last until 1970. His finest hour came against Oklahoma when he grabbed six passes for 67 yards and ran back four kickoffs for 65 yards, playing with one arm strapped down so that he couldn't raise it above his dislocated shoulder. Carpenter's remarkable athletic career at the Point did not end until the spring of 1960, when he was voted an All-America defenseman in lacrosse a year after he first picked up a stick. "He was like a gazelle," says Ace Adams, his coach. "Probably the best pure athlete that I ever coached. Just plain, raw-boned athletic ability."
What Anderson recalls most fondly about Carpenter, his best friend at the Point, has nothing to do with sports. He and Carpenter had made a pact to raise some hell after graduation, but Anderson realized before their senior year even began that those days were not to be. One balmy night the two were sitting on the porch of the boathouse at Camp Buckner, where cadets train during the summer. "Andy, see that girl over there?" Carpenter said. An attractive young woman was passing in review. "I'm going to marry her someday." Toni Vigliotti, a model from nearby Central Valley, was dating a plebe at the time.
"He pursued me," she says. "He really did. He pursued me."
She got her first glimpse of Carpenter's nature when she visited his home in Springfield a few months later. "After we had dinner, the town fire alarm went off," says Toni. "Bill dashed out the door. The next day in the paper was a picture of Bill on the roof of a house with an ax in his hands, ready to break out this second-floor window. The caption said something about 'the Lonesome End working to save someone's life.' "