Rocky Carr experienced a rough start to life in Miami, Florida. His parents divorced early, and his father raised him as a single parent. When his father passed away, Carr was 13, and he was placed into a boys’ home as an orphan. Nobody was surprised when he enlisted in the U.S. Marines on his 17th birthday.
Carr survived the harsh, demanding and rigorous boot camp and Advanced Infantry Training at the fabled Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, North Carolina. Because he was under 18 years old, he served his first tour of duty with the Fleet Marine Force of the 6th U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean Ocean.
On his 18th birthday, he was given two weeks leave at his hometown of Miami, and was assigned to the Republic of Vietnam. Most marines and soldiers went through a Replacement Unit and received at least some rudimentary, Vietnam-focused training before they were assigned to a unit. The 2/4 Marines had been devastated in fighting during the 1968 Tet Offensive, and nearly 700 replacements were needed to bring them up to strength. Carr was flown directly to his new unit from an Amphibious Assault ship in the Tonkin Gulf. He stepped off the helicopter and was greeted by a veteran Marine with a skull and crossbones on the back of his flak vest and a leering death’s head tattooed on his bicep. Carr wondered, “What in the hell have I got myself into?”
The next morning was April 30, 1968. The day began when a North Vietnamese fired upon a U.S. Navy river patrol boat. Hotel Company, 2/4 Marines (“The Magnificent Bastards”) was sent to investigate. Young Private First Class Rocky Carr had been given an M-60 Light Machine Gun. As he remembers, “Because the machine guns were always targets, and they figured I was so small and skinny, I would make less of a target!” At the time, Carr was 5’5” and weighed 125 pounds soaking wet. Hotel Company found the North Vietnamese — the 320th NVA Division of 10,000 strong that were launching the offensive that became known as Tet II. Their target was to overrun the vital Marine Corps combat base at Dong Ha.
In the three-day battle of Dai Do, Rocky Carr received his baptism of fire. When they entered the small village of Dong Huan, they were ambushed. Those men who jumped into a trench were cut to pieces by a Vietnamese .50 machine gun … “until we got to it.” At the first fire, Carr felt himself pushed to the ground. His flak vest stopped one bullet, and his shoulder strap and flak vest stopped a second. When he turned around to thank whoever had saved his life, nobody was even close to him. Carr remains convinced to this day that he was saved by his guardian angel. At one desperate moment, surrounded by the Vietnamese, Carr heard his Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Weise, order his marines to fix bayonets and charge their way out of the trap they were caught in. Three days later, Carr’s rifle company was down to 30 men. Carr recalls, with his lip trembling in emotion, “Death smiled at us, and we smiled right back at him.” Carr’s Company Commander, Lieutenant Vic Taylor, remembered: “The outcome was in the hands of individual Marines — Marines like PFC Rocky Carr — standing in the open, M60 machine gun braced on his hip, mowing down a column of NVA — tracer light sticks going through two at a time.” Seven hundred Marines, Rocky Carr among them, stopped 10,000 highly trained North Vietnamese regulars. Lt. Colonel Weise received three Purple Hearts and a Naval Cross, and two Marine officers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their extraordinary valor. During the three-day battle, the marines suffered 81 dead and 297 seriously wounded. The enemy left 1,568 on the battlefield.
Around Carr’s waist is a precious trophy: a Chinese officer’s belt buckle. In the De-Militarized Zone of Vietnam, the Marines found themselves fighting Chinese regulars, supporting the North Vietnamese. The Chinese knew that the distinctive red star emblazoned on their buckles were cherished souvenirs by the Americans, and would remove or booby-trip them as soon as possible. Carr noted, with a grin, “You had to take one immediately, right away … and I did.” To this day, Corporal Rocky Carr wears this incredibly rare combat trophy … from a grim day when an experienced, trained, professional Chinese officer came in second place to an 18-year-old U.S. Marine.
Aged 18 years and 3 months, Carr found himself a corporal in charge of a Marine Infantry fire team, responsible for the lives and welfare of three other men. He was one of two men remaining that had fought with his battalion at Dai Do. Sitting on the edge of a foxhole on July 21, 1968, Carr saw something suddenly move out of the corner of his eye. Before he could even turn his head, Carr was flattened by a bright, white light that knocked him out. He woke up at the bottom of the foxhole. Struggling to his feet, determined to sell his life as expensively as possible, he found that his best friend, Lance Corporal Alton Woolf, had been struck directly by the same rocket-propelled grenade that had critically wounded him. Carr cradled his best friend, who had lost both his arms, in his own arms as he passed away.
Still drenched in his best friend’s blood, Carr was evacuated to the U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Sanctuary. His three-month tour of duty in Vietnam had come to an end. When he returned home, Carr attended a Woolf family reunion at Lubbock, Texas (Alton’s home of record was Abilene), and had an opportunity to comfort his best friend’s parents and family that their son had not died alone.
Carr had a difficult time transitioning to civilian life. As he observes, “Nobody could come through what I did, the same way that they went in.” He had never heard of post-traumatic stress disorder, but he had nightmares and trouble sleeping, problems he addressed through self-medication with John Barleycorn. One day, “I was driving down a street in Casper when I saw a sign Veterans Outreach Clinic.” An instantaneous decision to stop in changed his life. One day later, a physician in Sheridan explained to Rocky what PTSD was and how it was treated. Carr was saved for a second time.
Today, Carr lives in Casper, retired on disability due to his Vietnam wounds. The highlight of his year is the Annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball. For Rocky Carr remains to this day the epitome of a U.S. Marine, the Few, the Proud.