As fires ravaged a U.S. Navy weapons and supply installation in Vietnam one March day in 1968, LTJG William Carr, USCG, ran into an ammo storage unit looking for a missing Navy sailor.
"This is stupid," Carr remembers thinking to himself. "You are going to die."
He never found the sailor. Carr, then 24 years old, was in command of the 82-foot patrol boat Point Arden and its ten-man crew. He and his men led the effort to control the fires, secure the ammo stockpiles, and tend to the wounded. Six to nine servicemen were killed that day, and 98 were wounded. He received a Bronze Star for that action.
It's not widely known the Coast Guard served in Vietnam – and every armed conflict since 1790. This 1968 attack targeted the Naval Support Activity Detachment along the Cua Viet River, just south of the North-South Vietnam DMZ. North Vietnamese Artillery hit the base, catching buildings, supplies and ammunition on fire. The attack destroyed 150 tons of ammunition.
"Were we frightened? You bet your butt we were," Carr said. "We just happened to be at the right place at the wrong time."
He never told anyone about what he did and the aftermath, not even his wife. He suffered what he believes are the effects of post-traumatic stress.
"I didn't realize how much trauma I had buried inside," Carr said about finally opening up about his war experiences. "I was honored to be in Vietnam. It changed my life."
In 2015, more than 47 years later, the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut honored Carr for his service with a plaque placed on the Wall of Gallantry in the school's Hall of Heroes. He graduated from the academy in 1965.
Carr, now 72 years old, spoke to 900 cadets along with three other inductees. "It was all very confusing after that," he said. "Every one of the crew members took matters into their own hands. It was incredible how they all did their duty."
"Heroism is not something for which you train," Carr continued. "Rather, what happens is we sometimes are confronted with extraordinary circumstances. We do our duty. And sometimes people recognize that as heroism."