Carlie Evans Bryant Jr. was 17 when he joined the Georgia National Guard.
His mother had to sign permission papers because of his age but did so reluctantly because the Korean War was still going on.
The Douglas, Ga., native smiles as he tells that story. “I told her that if she didn’t sign, I’d wait until I was 18 and join anyway.”
Bryant’s mother was a school teacher. His father was a farmer who died when Bryant was in his early teens. “My mother taught me everything I would learn in the first and second grades before I even went to the first grade,” he said. “I appeared to be smart—but that was a bad mistake,” he added, laughing.
After graduating from Douglas High School in 1952, Bryant went to railroad telegrapher school but after three months decided that was not for him. That was when he approached his mother about joining the Georgia National Guard.
Bryant was a private and private first class from Oct. 29, 1951 to the date of his honorable discharge from the Guard Sept. 25, 1952 when he enlisted in the active-duty Army at Atlanta, Ga.
Bryant went to Fort Jackson, S.C. for basic training and for advanced individual training. “Then they sent me home for a few days before sending me over to Korea,” he said about a tour of duty that lasted from February 1953 until July 1954.
“I was in Incheon, Korea when they had a cease fire,” he said. “When the war was over they swapped over all the Prisoners of War and I was in the unit that the POWs came to.”
Called “Operation Big Switch,” the prisoner exchange began in August 1953 and lasted until December of that year. The communists returned 12,773 United Nations Command prisoners, which included 7,862 South Koreans, 3,597 Americans, 945 British, 229 Turks, 40 Filipinos, 30 Canadians, 22 Colombians, 21 Australians, 12 Frenchmen, eight South Africans, two Greeks, two Dutch and one prisoner each from Belgium, New Zealand and Japan.
“I was a sad little 18 year old when we went through that,” Bryant said, shaking his head at the memory. “There were some sad tales about the way they were treated in those camps, I’ll tell you.”
Bryant had been working as a supply clerk but when his chain of command saw that he had been to telegraphy school, he was reassigned to a military transportation train. “The ‘Comanche Railroad’ was the name of my car,” Bryant said. “We carried 100 cases of C-rations that we warmed before we passed them out to the troops on the train. That’s where we were for 16 months.”
From November 1953 to July 1954 Bryant was assigned as a train commander responsible for moving American and other United Nations troops from the Incheon Port to various destinations throughout Korea. “I was the only corporal commander of a train car,” he recalled.
Bryant was awarded the Korean Service Medal with Bronze Star, United Nationals Service Medal.
“When I came home from Korea I had good intentions of going to South Georgia College but after a few weeks I decided I would rejoin the Army and was assigned back to Fort Jackson,” Bryant said. “In the meantime I met my future wife, Eddie Grace Grantham, who was working at the Douglas Chamber of Commerce.”
The couple married Dec. 4, 1955. “She waited until I was a first lieutenant before she decided to marry me,” Bryant, smiling at his wife who is an Irwin County, Ga., native. “She thought I was special and I agreed with her.”
From September 1954 until September 1955, Bryant was assigned as a freight clerk in the post transportation office at Fort Jackson, S.C. “In this job I dealt with and accomplished government bill of ladings in connection with the shipment of household goods, hold baggage and other military freight shipments shipped by commercial carriers,” he said.
From November 1955 to February 1958, Bryant was assigned to the Troop Movement Section of the post Transportation Office at Fort Jackson. “In this job I assisted in the movement of personnel from Fort Jackson to various installations throughout the United States by commercial air, rail and bus carriers,” he said.
“I also worked at the downtown terminals to meet new inductees and enlistees arriving for basic training at Fort Jackson,” he added. “In 1957, still at Fort Jackson, the Post Transportation Officer recommended me for an appointment as a Reserve Commissioned Officer and I was appointed to the rank of second lieutenant in the Transportation Corp on May 8, 1957.”
Then it was an assignment to Orleans, France for the Bryant family. “From March 1958 to December 1960, I was assigned to the traffic branch of the USAREUR Transportation Division in Orleans,” he said. “For three years, as an additional duty in this assignment I was in the USAREUR/COMZ Honor Guard which took me to a lot of places on holidays for parades.”
As an active duty soldier, Bryant became a squad leader, platoon sergeant and first sergeant. “I was appointed to Staff Sergeant E-6 in this assignment on Dec. 1, 1960,” he said.
“From January 1961 until February 1962, I was assigned as the Chief Documentation Noncommissioned Officer in the 124th Transportation Company at Fort Eustis, Va., and attached to the 11th Transportation Battalion as the Battalion Re-enlistment NCO,” he said about his assignment stateside.
Bryant was on orders to go to Ethiopia when he learned of an opportunity to attend Army flight school. “They said anybody that would like to put in for flight school should put in for it and they said they’d find replacements for us to go to Ethiopia.”
Bryant was accepted to the fixed wing flight school at Fort Rucker, training on the Cessna L-19/O-1 Bird Dog which was a liaison and observation aircraft. “Then when you got through with that you went to Cairns Army Airfield and got checked out for instruments in a L-20,” Bryant said.
After graduation from flight school in November 1963, Bryant was transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas where he was stationed from December 1963 until August 1964. While at Fort Riley, Bryant was sent on temporary duty to Fort Wolters, Texas to attend helicopter flight school.
From there he was sent to the central highlands in Vietnam in September 1964 until September 1965, the first of his two tours in Vietnam. When Bryant went to Vietnam, his wife went home to Ocilla, Ga. “The good Lord has been good to me and I don’t ever forget that,” Bryant said. ‘In fact, when I get up every morning I say, ‘Thank you Lord for another day.’”
Bryant returned to Fort Rucker to instruct students in utility helicopters. From there he was sent to the CH-54 “Flying Crane” School in Stratford, Conn.
Sent to a second tour in Vietnam from January 1967 until December 1968, Bryant was stationed at Fort Sill, Okla. He was stationed there from January 1969 until he retired from the military in 1972 as a major. Two years later he and his wife moved to Enterprise where they have lived since. He worked at Fort Rucker from 1974 until 1999. “We moved back to Rucker to work with the flight contractor teaching young flight students to fly, stayed on for 27 years and retired as the commander of the flight contract,” Bryant said. “We settled in Enterprise and have made it our permanent home.
Bryant was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, 13 Air Medals, an Army Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Vietnam Service Medal, Korean Presidential Citation and Senior Army Aviator Badge.
“I accumulated a total of 2,318 flying hours of which 552 hours was in single engine fixed wing aircraft, 1,012 hours in a single engine rotary wing and 753 hours was in a multi-engine helicopter time in the CH-54 flying crane,” Bryant said.
The Bryant’s Enterprise home burned in 2018 so most of his military memorabilia has been lost. His dress blues uniform was smoke saturated but intact. He also has some “onion skin” copies of his military paperwork. Onion skin paper was used as a typewriter tracing paper to hold carbon paper in place while making several copies. It was typed on a manual typewriter.
Bryant turned 86 on Oct. 29 of this year. “I am so old I know a lot of things that you have probably never heard of,” he said with a smile. “But the good Lord has been good to me and I don’t ever forget that.”