"Everyone knew about the Lonesome End and the hero of Dak To," says Terry Roche. "He walked in the back of the room with his fatigue uniform on, and this silence fell across the room. Everybody turned around. I'll never forget it. There was such an aura about him."
What he built at Fort Drum, not surprisingly, was a soldier's fort—a vast city of homes and buildings and barracks that were designed not only for the soldier but also by the soldier. Maj. Gen. Jack Keane, one of Carpenter's brigade commanders, recalls that he entered a room one day where architects and engineers were standing over designs for the barracks, and he started studying them, looking for things to improve. He could find nothing. "Who has seen these barracks?" Keane asked a young architect.
"Sir," the architect replied, "we've had soldiers of all ranks looking at these designs. General Carpenter sends all the people down here who have to live in them, and they tell us what to fix."
When it came time to design a youth center, Carpenter told the architects to sit down with teenagers and build it around their ideas. "The people who had the most to say about family housing were not engineers," Keane says. "He said, 'Let the wives tell us how to build it.' That's his thumbprint on the place."
That and the division he and his staff built from nothing. "It ended up the best division in the Army," says Hackworth. "No doubt about it—in terms of the quality, of the depth, of the brains and leaders he collected."
Carpenter left Fort Drum in April 1988, and a month later he was the assistant chief of staff for operations in the U.S.-Republic of Korea combined command. In September 1989 he finally got that third star as a lieutenant general and assumed command of the combined field army, potentially one of the hottest combat posts in the U.S. Army. With 240,000 troops under him, most of them forces of the Republic of Korea, Carpenter's mission was to guard the main invasion routes leading south across the DMZ toward Seoul. After four years in Korea, Carpenter resigned on Aug. 31, 1992.
For nearly two decades he had invested his life in helping to build the all-volunteer Army that triumphed in Desert Storm, and he did not want to be around when the budget ax began to fall. "Why should I sit and preside over the demise of something that I struggled for 20 years to crank up?" he says. "I left with a pretty good taste in my mouth. It was time to go. It felt right."
It is late morning of a day in August, and Carpenter is bearing north and east along the shore of Kintla Lake in Montana, sitting in the back of his canoe and digging his paddle into the water with deep, powerful strokes. The lake lies in a bowl of rock in the far northwest corner of Glacier National Park—above the rushing north fork of the Flathead River, up along a winding dirt road that cuts through charred forests, up at the end of the last twisting elbow of road that curls around the campsite at the waters edge.
"You should come up here in June," Carpenter says, "when the snow is melting and waterfalls are all over that mountain. I come up here by myself on occasion. You can go out in a place like this for a week and not see anybody. If I were living back east, the last thing I'd do on Memorial Day is say, 'Let's go for a drive.' But Toni and I did that this year. We drove up to the Yaak Valley, at the Idaho-Canadian border, and were gone all day. We saw 17 cars. We had lunch at the Dirty Shame Saloon. Can you beat that?"
Not by any measure known to Carpenter. The fact that he left the Army with three stars instead of four troubles him not at all. It is clearly a point that distracts him even less these days than the deer that sneak onto his property to nibble at the flowering crab apple bush that he planted. Far weightier than any other issue bearing on his life are the railroad tics he has been struggling to lay for a walkway leading to the backyard deck, a wraparound porch with a commanding view of a stand of larch pines and several cords of wood he has been cutting and stacking for the winter.