This Incredible Pilot: Charles Carpenter | Aviation

High Res Bazooka Charlie Cmyk Public Domain.jpg

There are countless stories of heroics stemming from World War II. The “Greatest Generation” fought battles both in the Pacific and Europe. Many never came home. But thanks to one man with a crazy idea, many men who would have otherwise never made it to see the end of the war did, in fact, return home. That would be the one and only Charles Carpenter, but history remembers him as “Bazooka Charlie.”

Carpenter was born in the small town of Edgington, Illinois, in 1912. If such a thing can be predetermined, then it was likely that Carpenter was destined for the skies. On the day he was born, the local newspaper headline read, “Aviation Events Big Fair Feature.” Yet aviation was a long way off for Carpenter. His parents divorced when Carpenter was still a child, and he and his siblings would frequently find themselves working on neighbors’ farms to help make ends meet.

Carpenter still found time for his studies. Books were a happy pastime for him, and upon graduating high school, he turned to teaching history in Moline, Illinois. It was there he met Elda Fritchle. They married in 1940 and had a daughter, Carol, together.

But war was coming for the U.S., and in 1942 Carpenter was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Initially assigned to the infantry, he was sure he could do more aloft. He decided to join the Glider Corps, but he found the training took much longer than he anticipated and he was hungry for action.

[Photographer unknown/public domain image]

Carpenter arrived in France in 1944, where he was assigned to combat duty with the 1st Bombardment Division. Compared to the P-40s, P-51s, and B-17s that were commanding the skies over Europe, his airplane was nothing remarkable. Carpenter found himself in the L-4 Grasshopper, although it is better known by its civilian name, the Piper Cub. 

However, Carpenter wasn’t going to let his small, slow airplane keep him from fighting the Germans. He took a page out of other…

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