Only in Patton's Army could a mild-mannered history teacher from Moline, Illinois, join the service and become forever immortalized as "Bazooka Charlie."
Charles Carpenter joined the Army as a pilot shortly after America's entry into World War II. He became an aerial artillery observer with the 4th Armored Division of Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army. It was here Carpenter became a legend on both sides of the war.
By the time he arrived in Europe in 1944, then-Maj. Carpenter had a lot of flying time training for artillery observation and reconnaissance. However, his first great feat in Europe was not in the air, it was on the ground.
While scouting for advanced landing fields in a jeep near Avranches, France, Carpenter came across a unit pinned down by Germans holding a nearby town. He ran up to the lead tank, jumped on the .50 cal machine gun, fired off a burst at the Germans, and yelled, "Let's Go!"
Although technically not the leader of the unit, the men followed his commands and assaulted the town, capturing it in minutes. Unfortunately, Carpenter ordered the tank he was riding to fire at what he thought was an enemy tank. The shot took the bulldozer plow off a fellow American tank.
Carpenter next to his L-4. (Library of Congress photo)
He was arrested after the incident and threatened with a firing squad before his commanding general came to his rescue. He was told to expect a court-martial — until word of his exploits reached Gen. Patton. Patton personally stopped the court-martial proceedings and instead awarded Carpenter a Silver Star for his bravery, saying Carpenter was "the kind of fighting man I want in my army."
After the incident, Carpenter kept to the skies, but he certainly wasn't out of the fight. Though discouraged by his plane's lack of armament and offensive capability, he heard rumors of other scout pilots attaching weapons to their planes. He conceived an idea that would truly make him famous in the European Theater.
With the help of an ordinance tech and a crew chief, Carpenter attached two M1 bazookas to the struts of his L-4 Grasshopper (the military version of a Piper Cub), which he then promptly dubbed "Rosie the Rocketer." Each bazooka was controlled electronically from switches in the cockpit and could be fired individually or at the same time.
Crew chiefs attach a bazooka to Carpenter's L-4. (U.S. Army photo)
Despite flying an unprotected aircraft right into the enemy to score his kills, Carpenter was never wounded. For his exploits during the war, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster to go with his Silver Star.
After the war, "Bazooka Charlie" once again became Mr. Carpenter and went back to teaching high school history in Illinois before losing a battle with cancer in 1966.