Brothers in arms

One Franklin family sent five young men to Vietnam — four returned alive, a fifth was awarded a Bronze Star

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When the nation is engaged in a war, some families seem bound by sense of service.

The Carothers family of the Arno community is one such family.

Daniel and Mary Carothers farmed land along what is now Carothers Road on the east side of Franklin and had a houseful of children.

Among the children were five sons. Each either enlisted or was drafted into the military. All five went to Vietnam. One was wounded and one was killed in action.

“There weren’t any jobs in Franklin and we didn’t want to do any more farming,” James Carothers said. “Joining the military was a great opportunity. There were 16 boys in our graduating class. Just about all went into the military, three into the Marines. The recruiters made it sound so good.”

James and older brother Daniel Jr. were the two oldest Carothers brothers. They were so close in age, they were in the same grade through school.

They graduated from Franklin Training School in 1959. With the intention of making it a career, both enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1960.

“We wanted to travel and see the country,” James said. “At the time, the Marine Corps needed people.”

Their first trip was to Parris Island, South Carolina, for basic training. They remained together to take part in advanced individual infantry training at Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina.

“We bounced around together for six years,” James said.

They remained together at their first permanent duty station, in Hawaii, for two years and for two years in Quantico, Virginia. The brothers were finally separated in 1966, when Daniel to went to Okinawa, in Japan, for a few years, and James was shipped to El Torro, California, where he mobilized and continued his journey to Vietnam with the 1st Marine Battalion.

“I got there in August and was wounded in November,” James said. “We were on night patrol and were ambushed. A hand grenade was tossed in my lap. Both legs were broke and I had multiple shrapnel wounds in my arms and head.”

He was sent to a hospital in the Philippines. 

“The hospital was hoping to get all the shrapnel out, but they didn’t take it all out. There’s still some in there,” he said.

James was transferred to a hospital in Japan and later to Memphis before being  released back to the Marines in April 1967 for temporary duty at Quantico. James returned to the hospital after trouble with his stitches made it difficult for him to do several exercises.

“The hospital took (the stitches) out and I was back to temporary duty,” he said.

He remained at Quantico until an evaluation declared he was unfit for duty. He was sent him home on temporary disability. On Nov. 30, 1970, he was retired to permanent disability.

“I was going for the full blast (career) till Charlie (Viet Cong) told me to go home,” James said.

He got a job with Lasko Metal Products on Columbia Avenue, where he worked for 46 years before retiring in 2017.

Daniel remained in Okinawa until November 1969, when he was sent to Vietnam, where he remained until October 1970.

After he re-enlisted, Daniel did a second tour in DaNang, James said.

Noble Carothers was in the last Franklin Training School graduating class, the class of 1961. The only brother to go to college, Noble received an ROTC scholarship to attend Tennessee State University. He graduated in 1965 as an officer in the Air Force, took basic training at England Air Force Base in Louisiana and had further training in military intelligence to become a reconnaissance pilot at Lackland Air Force base in Texas.

“His first duty station was in Virginia,” James said.

Noble was in Vietnam from November 1968 to November 1969.

“I don’t think his feet ever touched the ground,” James said. “He was always flying around.”

Noble was committed to 10 years and planned to stay longer. But by that time, the Vietnam War was over and the military was cutting back.

“He did his tour and got out,” James said.

Noble Carothers was discharged in May 1975..

Richard Carothers graduated from Natchez High School in 1963 and was drafted soon after. He was sent to Vietnam in April 1966 with the 112th Infantry and was stationed in the Da Nang area. When James arrived in Vietnam in August 1966, he advised Richard to leave the country.

“No two brothers were supposed to be serving in Vietnam at the same time,” James said. “I told him to get out. I wasn’t about to leave. I wanted to make the Marines a career. They would have sent him back later.”

Richard was on R&R at the time and “having a good time,” so he refused to bring the news to the attention of his superiors, James said.

On Dec. 17, 1966, Richard Carothers was killed while engaging the enemy. He was 21. 

According to a military report, while maneuvering his platoon into a flanking position “with complete disregard for his own safety, PFC Carothers rushed into a hedgerow and engaged two enemy soldiers who had been inflicting heavy casualties on the platoon” with automatic weapon fire. In a point-blank fire fight, he killed the two “and turned his attention on two other bunkers.”

Richard was posthumously presented with the Bronze Star “for courageous action and unselfish devotion to duty” and the Purple Heart.

James, with tears welling up in his eyes as he recalled that day almost 53 years ago, said, “I was in the hospital in Japan when he was killed. They got ambushed, the whole battalion.”

Back home, a local Marine staff sergeant delivered a telegram.

“That’s how (the family) knew it was bad news,” James continued. “They thought it was me, but it was Richard.”

David Carothers, the youngest brother, graduated from Franklin High School in 1968 and was drafted almost immediately. He arrived in Vietnam early in 1969, but big brother Noble was still there.

“Noble went and got David out of Vietnam,” James said.

David was transferred to Hawaii, where he expected to remain until Nobel left. Instead, he remained there the remainder of his Army tour of duty.

“We all went to help out,” James said. “There was nothing else to do (in Franklin). There weren’t any jobs.”

When each of the brothers returned home, they went on to create comfortable lives for their families.


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