You can tell Tech. Sgt. Roger Carl is bright.
With his quick wit and a deep laugh, he’ll tell you about circuits, grids and how there’s a whole HAM radio world out there based on communication, electronics and frequencies that he knows all about.
However, in the moments of silence, where his passion for all things electronic do not fill the void, there’s silence. He can pepper you with quick facts about his role in the Pacific, but any anecdotal memory has slipped beyond his faculties.
He grinds his teeth, shuts his eyes and strains to remember certain things. Sometimes he’s successful and he laughs; other times he says “it’s too much” and he can’t remember, but still laughs.
However, in those moments when he’s laughing out of success and not out of forgetfulness, you’re given the image of a man whose current faculties don’t accurately portray his service in the Philippines; how he stayed alive although his ship was consistently strafed by Japanese pilots; or a man who served for close to two decades in the U.S. military around the globe.
However, with the help of his son, a few online archives and his successful recollections, the story of Roger Carl proves that a harmonious conception of memory can be brilliant.
Carl was born Aug. 28, 1926, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to James and Irma, a disabled World War I vet and a woman who “did a little bit of everything,” respectively.
“My father hurt his back during the war,” said Carl, adding to he never really knew how his father had been injured. “And Mom did laundry mostly, but she’d do anything she could.”
The harsh winters of southern Michigan, coupled with the Depression coming into full swing soon after the birth of Carl — the family’s youngest of three — created hardship for his family, Carl said. Especially considering his father’s health.
“We were kind of poor, but it didn’t really make a difference to me because I was so young. But my parents dealt with the brunt of it,” said Carl. “So, when I was 5 years old, we moved to Tucson, Arizona, and we lived in the boonies.”
To fill his time, where the land was cheap but people were sparse, Carl became friends with another boy around his age named Cecil Teague. Together they would, from before the time Carl was 10 years old, take their .22-caliber rifles out into the wilderness so as to camp and live off of a diet of fresh rabbit and whatever else they brought along.
“We would hike and take those rifles out for a couple days,” said Carl. “I was an outdoorsy guy.”
Carl’s son, Warren, said his grandparents hosted dance parties, particularly square dancing parties, in Tucson, and while at those parties, his father developed a lifelong love for that particular style of dance.
In the southern Arizona desert, as well as becoming an excellent shot and an avid hiker, Carl developed a love for music and a deft hand on the trumpet.
“I played for quite a bit,” said Carl. “I wasn’t the best student, but I really liked my music.”
However, before he could see if the trumpet and stage would be his pathway to a successful life, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States was thrust into a war against the Axis powers in both Europe and the Pacific. And a year before the landing on D-Day, the U.S. Navy would be receiving yet another new recruit.
On his 17th birthday, before his high school graduation, Roger Carl walked into the Navy recruitment office and told them Aug. 28, 1943, officially marked the day he was eligible to enlist in the armed forces.
In 1939, the U.S. military — before declaring war on Japan, Germany and their allies — had a total of 49,181 young recruits sign their enlistment cards, and the following year, due to the 1940 Burke-Wadsworth Act imposing the first peacetime draft and the eligible registration age being established as 21 to 36 years, nearly 348,683 young men were drafted.
By November 1942, with the United States now a participant in the war, the draft ages had to be expanded — men 18 to 37 were now eligible, and 17-year-olds, like Carl, would be eligible with their parents’ permission. Because boys like Carl were now being eligible, enlistment card numbers skyrocketed relative to the 1939 level, with 3,030,407 joining in 1942, and 1,839,363 in 1943.
Carl said his memories now, looking back some 75-plus years, are somewhat spotty, but he does recall parts of his service in the Pacific, that he served on the infantry landing craft LCI(G)-558 as an electrician and that he had served in a number of dangerous operations.
“They would ferry men to the beach and they would drop them off,” said Warren. “They were strafed by kamikaze pilots a few times, but he never really talked about it much. There was a whole different thing going on back then when it came to talking about your military service.”
On board the ship, Carl functioned as one of the craft’s multiple electricians, fixing a “little bit of everything” on board the vessel.
For as much as his memories have faded, Roger Carl recalled with clarity when the LCI(G)-558 he served on was in port in the Philippines. He recalls the boat being tied up and running on the not-as-powerful in-dock power sources when they heard enemy planes were closing in on them.
“We had to shut the boat off and restart it,” said Carl, who closed his eyes and ground his teeth in an effort to remember it all. “We had to disconnect everything, and then restart it so we could separate ourselves.”
For his total amount of time spent in Navy, Carl was aboard the LCI(G)-558, he says, and according to U.S. Landing Craft Infantry National Association, Carl then likely served in the following operations: Leyte Operation on Oct. 20, 1944; the Manila Bay-Bicol Operations; the Luzon Operation — where the ship participated in Lingayen Gulf Landings from Jan. 4-18, 1945 — and finally the assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto from March 25 to June 30, 1945.
After being honorably discharged from the Navy due to a broken femur he sustained while “doing something stupid” close to the end of his first enlistment, Carl returned home to Tucson to finally finish high school at the age of 20.
However, he said he wanted back in.
“The Navy didn’t have much use for a limp,” said Carl. “But the Air Force took me in.”
Carl immediately assumed his duties once again as an electrician for the U.S. Air Force and worked for the military branch for a little over 15 years.
Carl was honorably discharged as an E-6 Tech Sergeant at the end of a 20-year career in the service, which spanned across two branches and multiple oceans and countries.
“I worked on radios for (my son),” Carl said, while his son added that his father would be interested in communications technology — particularly HAM radios — for the rest of his life.
Carl later attended college once he was stateside, but he wound up leaving the classroom once again for a job with the Los Angeles City Bureau of Standards.
He had two children and, after a long career working for the government in both the military and Los Angeles, he finally retired and moved to Nevada.
“They were pretty active square dancers and pretty social people,” said Warren, referencing his father and stepmom, Peggy.
Warren added that a few years back, he was able to experience something with his father and was able to delve a little bit into the world that his father has nearly forgotten.
“A couple of years ago, he was on the Honor Flight program, where (the nonprofit) flew him to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II memorial there,” Warren said, adding he had been invited as his father’s guardian. “He was impressed. I mean, he just said, ‘It’s a pretty impressive place.’”
As he sits in his home at Sunrise Sterling Canyon, the memories might have somewhat faded, but there are reminders that bring him back: like visiting a monument with his fellow former sailors; thinking about his lifelong leg injury; or talking about the hearing loss he incurred from the guns being fired overhead.
And if you find the right light, Carl’s memories shine through.