Bill and Toni are home at last. They live in a two-story log house whose design he sketched for the builder on the back of an envelope. "If I had it to do over again," he says, "I'd have retired after military school, bought two acres out here somewhere and lived off the land. And not worked for anybody."
In the year since his retirement he has settled into a life of ease. The couple's three boys are on their own. Bill Jr., 31, is a high school football coach in Colville, Wash.; Ken, 29, a former end at the Air Force Academy, is an F-15 fighter pilot; and Steve, 28, sells outdoor equipment in Southern California.
The 56-year-old Carpenter rises every morning at 5:30 and spends his days drifting casually between working on his house and backpacking through the endless woods or canoeing some pristine lake or river. "I always said I wasn't going to hang around the military when I retired," he says. "I was thinking of all those ex-military guys with their suits and briefcases, trying to get the Army to buy something."
Carpenter holds tightly to his new freedom. He is cultivating a beard, and he is letting his subscriptions to military publications expire. Here is a man who never made a sentimental journey to any of his old posts, though this year he has returned twice to South Korea to help an American firm, Titan Applications Group, evaluate the Korean high command in computer-simulated exercises. The money is excellent, and he is selling not hardware but a singular expertise, the consoling point in a venture for which he seems almost apologetic: "No one knows the personalities of the Korean high command better than I do."
In a few years, as that command turns over and his expertise grows obsolete, he will retire as a consultant, too, and do something far earthier if he needs the extra work. His unaffected humility, his utter lack of pretense, is his fourth star. "I'd drive a delivery truck," he says. "Or work in a hardware store. Or pump gas. What I'd really like to do is go to work for my builder. I can do almost anything. I can put in bathrooms. I can lay tile. I can wallpaper. I can paint. I'm finishing my basement right now. I'd go to work for my builder. In a heartbeat."
As for now, far richer in space and time than he has ever been, Carpenter is making his last stand way out there in the wild, way up along the nation's northern sideline, about as far away as he can get from the world's work. Toni is holding a large painted sign with mountains in purple and lettering that says LONESOME END. Carpenter shakes his head. "It should be an apostrophe—Lonesome's End," he says. "I'm not hanging the sign on me. I'm going to hang it on the house."
Toni tips her head. She had it right. "No," she says. "Lonesome End. That's what we're calling our place. I thought of it. What else could ours be other than the Lonesome End?"