Mr. Lucky Finally Recieves His Stripes
Loyd Carter is a veteran of World War II, a survivor and someone who should be honored this Memorial Day. His story should fill you with pride, respect and thankfulness. His journey through life has earned him the title, Mr. Lucky, and he doesn’t mind telling you how accurate that title may be.
The Early Years
Carter was born in Holdenville, Oklahoma in 1919. The small town consisted of very little—a main street with a few small stores and small farms in all directions. Carter grew up on one of those farms, just outside of town. With his nine brothers and three nephews, Carter spent most days working the self-sufficient, cattle and cotton farm.
Each day, the chores were clear, “Pop would wake us up before daylight, and when we got out to the fields, we would have to wait until it was light in order to get to work,” he said. “Everyday, it was dark when we left home and it was dark when we got home.”
Carter would pick upwards to 300 pounds of cotton each day. At the time, cotton sold for 75 cents per one hundred pounds. The farm also produced cantaloupes, which would sell two cantaloupes for a nickel. “Those people simply didn’t have a nickel; they had nothing.”
So in 1938, Carter joined the National Guard for the pay of 75 cents per week. He did it because the family needed the additional money. He stayed in the Guard until June 1941. Feeling the war was imminent, he joined the Navy the same month.
“By October, of that year, I had saved up $240. Because I thought I could get killed, I sent it all back home, to Mom and Pop.”
During the War
Shortly after joining the Navy, Carter went to San Diego. Once there, he boarded the USS Wharton, and begun his voyage to Hawaii.
Once he arrived, he was stationed on the USS California. He had yet to be given a battle station, so he spent some of his time working wherever he was needed. One cool morning, while setting up chairs for Sunday Service, he had no reason to believe anything other than the obvious was about to happen.
“I could hear them,” he said. “ I knew they were Japanese, and I saw them coming. I knew that it was their torpedoes.”
He held on to whatever he could grab and waited out the explosions, the fires, the smells and the horror of watching friends being slaughtered.
Pearl Harbor Day has a different meaning to Carter. “Afterwards, we had to dig the dead out of the ships and out of the water. It…was awful.”
Through the ordeal, Carter was spared without injury, and his title began to take shape. In the following days, he was assigned a battle station on-board the USS Indianapolis. He manned the 40mm aircraft guns and spent many days scraping, sanding and painting the ship. Maintenance never stops on a ship that large.
He would tell you that life was routine, with some narrow escapes. “In Okinawa, a Kamikaze hit the ship and made a hole all the way to the bottom. Eleven of our men didn’t make it,” he said. Repairs were made and the flagship of the fifth fleet of the U.S. Navy set out once again.
Days and years passed and the war continued on. In the summer of 1945, the Indianapolis set out for perhaps one of the most world changing events in the history of mankind—destination Tinian Islands. The Indianapolis carried parts necessary for completing the atomic bomb. The parts would be delivered and eventually loaded onto the Enola Gay, which was bound for Hiroshima.
After delivering the necessary parts, the Indianapolis set off for the Philippines. The crew was preparing for the invasion of Japan; routine duties continued. At midnight, on July 30, Carter was finishing his watch and waiting for his replacement, which was unusually late. Anxious to be relieved, Carter planned to go to the sick bay.
Moments later, the torpedoes struck. Then they struck again and again. “I immediately began looking for a submarine. I looked around and there was nobody left but me,” he said. “I didn’t make it to the sick bay, but nobody from the sick bay got out. Nobody! Everybody died.”
Within a few moments, the ship had taken on enough water that it was sinking at a 45-degree angle. Carter decided to abandon ship. He climbed upward on his hands and knees, and when he reached the top, he went over.
“We were always taught to go over the high side of a sinking ship. We were also taught that when you hit the water, start swimming away as fast as you can because when that ship sinks, it will suck you down.”
He swam to safety. Carter and the few survivors did what they could to stay above the frigid, shark-infested waters for the rest of the night. They were waiting for a rescue, being certain one would come due to the distress signal they gave out before abandoning ship. It didn’t come that next day. In fact, it wasn’t until the USS Bassett found the men, five days later, that they were rescued.
Just after the rescue and during recovery, the war ended. After an honorable discharge in November 1945, Carter simply puts it, “Well, I just went home, back to the farm. I was glad to see the red dirt of Oklahoma again.”
Long Over Due
Some 60 years later, family member and current Petty Officer, Adam Kishman, learned that Loyd Carter had never been decorated with the all of the earned medals for his time spent in the Navy. Determined to do something about it, Kishman contacted the Navy headquarters in Camp Lejeune, did all the research, and saw the project through. He arranged an awards ceremony to honor Petty Officer 3rd class, Loyd Carter.
On March 14, at Tinker Air Force Base, in the presence of Rear Admiral Doug McClain, Carter received seven medals, including a purple heart and a World War II Victory medal.
“I was overwhelmed by it. I told those people at Tinker that I was amazed at what they did for me. And then…I thanked them,” Carter said.
Today, Carter tries his Mr. Lucky title at the casinos. He thoroughly enjoys meatloaf and will tell you that High Noon is still his favorite movie.