Wilbur L. “Pete” Carpenter
“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence. Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air. “Up, up the long delirious burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, where never lark, or even eagle, flew; and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
Lt. Colonel Wilbur “Pete” Carpenter says that this poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. captures his feelings the first time he flew a jet plane.
The sound of P-40s from an Army training facility near his family’s farm in Chatham, Louisiana, caught Pete’s attention at age 16. It was that “sweet sound” that made him want to fly a single-seat airplane. But that wasn’t the only reason Pete wanted to join the service. His older brother was in the Navy onboard the USS Tennessee, which was moored next to the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Pete’s family learned of his brother’s fate about two weeks later when they received a single postcard with a checked box that said: “I’m okay.” Pete’s other brother was also in service at that time, as a pilot. When news of the attack reached them on their car radio, Pete asked his brother to rent an airplane, and then he said they’d “get some grenades and fly to Japan and take care of this.”
At age 21, he hitchhiked to Barksdale AFB in Shreveport to apply as an Aviation Cadet. Three days after testing and evaluation, he set off on July 10, 1950, for Randolph AFB and basic training. At Randolph, Pete Carpenter would solo in a T-6 Texan and head to Williams Air Force Base (Willie) near Phoenix and into F-80s. Later, he would fly 100 missions in Korea. A few quick “back seats” on the T-6 and a pamphlet led to “checking out” on a P-47.
After marrying his sweetheart Honeyjean Roos on April Fool’s Day in 1956, Pete embarked on the traveling life of a pilot, checking out on the F-100 and, in 1958, leading a flight of 8 to the Azores (with no air refueling). He then spent time in Vietnam, saying the “rules changed daily.” One day, you were not permitted in a certain area; the next day, you could, particularly in the Hanoi area, go against certain targets. “It was demanding to try and keep up with what was going on that particular day. Almost halfway through my tour, I went to Saigon because of specific knowledge I had regarding Thailand and special instrumentation. I lived off base at the time, and one night, I woke up with Colonel Carpenter, who may hold the record for most unusual encounters in his piloting career, from an unidentified VIP in the back seat of his aircraft during a particularly tense low-fuel landing, meeting King Olaf V of Norway, and surviving the first battle of Saigon with no weapons and a frantic race to get back to base with bullets and grenades exploding around him.”
After retirement, he entered the commercial real estate business in the Tucson, AZ area. Pete feels he has lived his dreams. He married his “one and only,” lived in exciting places, flew amazing aircraft, met true and loyal friends, and felt the pride of fatherhood and grandfatherhood. Though he lost Honeyjean in 2002 after 46 years of marriage, he now has his grandson as his traveling companion and his buddies of the Friday Pilots to meet with to reconnoiter, rehash, and retell the tales of their flying days.
Wilbur L. “Pete” Carpenter is a member of the “Friday Pilots” and the book of the same name written by Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd. See his story “Cloth Airplanes, Straight Wings and Jets” in the book. Friday Pilots is a book of first-person stories written by “old” pilots who flew the old airplanes in the old Air Force. These are personal stories of growing up in a different America, their lives before political correctness, back when airplanes were dangerous, but flying was fun. There are fighter pilots, bomber pilots, airline pilots, corporate pilots, and astronauts. All book royalties go to the Fisher House charity for military families – the Fisher House provides housing near treatment facilities for military families experiencing severe medical problems. See their website at
To hear an interview with Col. Carpenter on his story “Cloth Airplanes, Straight Wings and Jets” go to:Https://www.1041kqth.com/shows/podcasts/american-warrior-podcast/american-warrior-cloth-airplanes-straight-wings-and-jets-with-wilbur-carpenter-101115