All about the immortal J-3 Piper Cub and L-4 Grasshopper, built by William Piper at Lock Haven, which evolved into the PA-11 Cub Special, PA-18 Super Cub, and the Legend Cub and other lookalikes of today
I've long had a page about Major Charles Carpenter and his bazooka-equipped L-4 on this website, but I never dug into their story beyond that. Now, in Bazooka Charlie, James Busha has done it for us, unearthing the full story with the help of the major's daughter and his wartime diary. The result is a rather wonderful book that would have benefited greatly from an editor's red pencil. You may find yourself skipping, as I did, and you may be baffled by some of the malapropisms: jinx for jinks, defiantly for definitely, imaginary for imaginative. (Perhaps Schiffer has outsourced editing to ChatGPT?) But you should see it through, as I did, with maybe a damp eye at times. In brief: Charles Carpenter (never "Charlie," it seems!) grew up poor during the First World War, earned an Army Reserve commision through a summer training program, and became a history teacher in Moline, Illinois. So he was 29 and a first lieutenant by the time he actually entered military service.
Carpenter volunteered for glider training but switched to "liaison" as the pilot of a 65-horsepower Piper Cub L-4 modified for spotting artillery targets. What with one thing and another, it was July 1944 before he finally went to war, wearing the gold leaves of a major in Patton's Third Army as it rampaged through France. Carpenter did indeed outfit his Cub with bazookas on its port and starboard wing struts, fired by a battery in the cockpit, and he did indeed destroy some German panzers and lesser vehicles, though no one seems to know how many. More often, though, he chauffeured Maj Gen John Wood, commander of 4th Armored Division. This was a good-luck assignment, because when Carpenter wildly exceeded his authority by jumping atop a Sherman tank and got a stalled squadron moving again, he was arrested and might have been imprisoned if "his" general hadn't interceded.
After the Battle of the Bulge that December, Carpenter went through a bad patch, probably suffering what was then called "battle fatigue," and after V-E Day he was invalided back to the US with Hodgkin's Disease. He recovered, reunited with his family, and returned to teaching, but died at the rather young age of 55. But his story didn't end there. Incredibly, the L-4 he named "Rosie the Rocketer" not only survived the war but survived the peace as well, winding up in an Austrian museum after a career as a glider tug with a replacement 90-hp engine. The plane was acquired by the Collings Foundation and restored to flying condition three years ago, complete with her wartime nose art -- painted by Erin Pata, the granddaughter whom Carpenter never met. What a story! -- Daniel Ford
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Posted December 2023. Websites © 1997-2023 Daniel Ford; all rights reserved. This site sets no cookies, but the Mailchimp sign-up service does. So does Amazon if you click through to that store.