The Fighter and the Pilot

Lt. Col. H. E. Carr, U.S. Air Force retired, a 30-year  winter resident of Longboat Key, died in his home on Tuesday from complications resulting from a fall. 

Gene (he was always known as Gene) was a man of many parts. He was an outstanding fighter pilot and squadron commander in the U.S. Air Force, a selectman in the town of Sandwich on Cape Cod  for 15 years, and president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. He had an excellent singing voice and once appeared in a performance of “1776” at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C..  His favorite song (his theme song) was “My Way”.  Gene was an excellent bridge player and a fine athelete.  He won a number of golf tournaments.  He and his son Craig were town tennis champions in Sandwich, Mass..  He was European Armed Forces and New England table tennis champion. On a dart team with his son David,  he won three state darting championships. He attended Hobart college at 16 with a  basketball scholarship.

Gene was raised in Union Springs, N. Y.. He was a child of the Depression who grew up a fighter.  He had many battles  including extreme poverty, a near fatal illness, a near fatal accident, a broken home, the death of a brother, and the stigma of a father in prison.

He left town for college near the end of World War II and took with him an incredible will to win, an enormous chip on his shoulder and a deeply held sense of morality and justice. Gene soon left school to join the Navy, seeing duty in the Pacific.

Soon after the end of the war, Gene joined the Army Air Corps seeking to enter pilot training in order to join his brother, Bruce, as a fighter pilot.  As boys, the brothers had taken their pennies, nickels and dimes and convinced an evangelical biplane pilot, “Sky Pilot Robby,” to take them for a ride.  The boys sat together in the front seat of the biplane during the flight and when they landed, they shook hands and vowed to become fighter pilots.

Gene entered the newly formed Air Force at the very beginning of what was to become known as the “second heroic era of flight”.  He became the first aviation cadet ever to solo in a jet.  It seemed that new speed records were set on a weekly basis.   The technology was new and there were many problems with training.  Approximately 50% of the cadets in his class eventually died in plane crashes.  He expected to die while flying and the fact that he reached old age came as a suprise to him.

While Gene had found his true calling, the chip on his shoulder made him resist military discipline.  In latter years he shared the opinion that he had been a second luetenant longer than anyone else in  the Air Force .  Despite his problems with authority, he was recognized as a very able pilot.  A WW II ace had taken him under his wing (literally and figuratively) and helped him become an exceptional pilot.  Gene became the first pilot who was not a WW II  ace to be charged with evaluating American fighter squadrons in Europe.

During the Vietnam War, he flew secret missions for the CIA , served as a forward air controller, a base commander in Thailand and, while  with South Korean forces in Vietnam, he was severely wounded .  With special approval by the U.S. Congress, he received the Korean equivalent of the Medal of Honor.

Gene ended his career in the Air Force as a squadron commander, receiving the highest evaluation reports for a squadron commander in the Air Defense Command.  Unfortunately for him, he had chosen the status of “reserve officer”. This had some benefits at the time, however  at the end of the Vietnam War all reserve officers seving on active duty were retired as a group.

After a difficult adjustment to an unexpected civilian status, Gene became a selectman in the town of Sandwich Massachusetts, where he served his community ably for fifteen years.  He believe in working for the common good and was a strong believer in democracy.   He endowed a fund in the town of Sandwich which awards outstanding public service.  He also awarded an annual scholarship to a graduate of Union Springs High School.

Gene is survived by Marcia Sexton, his companion of more than 40 years, his first wife Connie Crocker Carr, as well as his five children: David, Craig, Debra, Steven and stepdaughter Kimberly as well as seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

— by David Carr.

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