As a Vietnam War veteran, Cecil Carver had a special interest in visiting Arlington National Cemetery last month.
Among the cemetery’s numerous memorials that honor various divisions of the military, the one dedicated to the 101st Airborne, with its symbolic eagle statue, caught Carver’s attention. As he reverently observed the memorial, Carver thought of a group of veterans he felt deserved similar recognition.
Carver, a 30-year University City resident, served in a branch of the U.S. Army called the Army Security Agency, the Army’s intelligence gathering division active from the end of World War II until it was decommissioned in 1976.
As Americans honor Veterans Day on Nov. 11, Carver will continue his work to convince Arlington National Cemetery leaders that the ASA deserves its own memorial on the 624-acre property. He said he has contacted U.S. government officials, accessed a data base of ASA veterans, and is waiting to receive an official application that, when submitted, will formally start the process.
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“I thought, ‘No one knows about us,’ ” said Carver, a 68-year old bank customer service representative. “But that was always the intent. But I thought if no one tells our story now, who will?”
Carver, who displays a U.S. flag in front of his two-story brick home in the Sweetwater neighborhood, has no idea how long the process will take. But he pledges to fight the fight with the determination of the ASA’s motto: Semper Vigilis, which translates into “Vigilant Always.”
The ASA operated under the authority of the National Security Agency.
As a Roxboro High graduate, Carver followed his older brother Maynard into the ASA in 1964. Carver requested stateside service and never thought he’d be deployed to Vietnam.
Carver said he spent two years overseas, splitting time between Saigon and Phu Bai. He said his responsibility was to cryptically distribute information about the location of enemy forces to U.S. Army officers.
Dave Sandelin, a native Chicagoan who has lived in Mint Hill since 2004, was one of the ASA personnel whose job was to find the enemy through their radio transmissions. He said he flew on 247 airplane missions from June 1966 to January 1967.
Sandelin’s name was one of about 75 that appeared on a list of Charlotte-area ASA veterans Carter retrieved from the website asalives.org a couple weeks ago. Carver immediately began reaching out to the men on that list.
Sandelin said he initially thought a memorial was uncalled for, but the more Carver spoke about his passion, Sandelin became a believer.
“There’s a thousand of guys and women out there and we couldn’t talk about the job once we left the operations,” said Sandelin, 70. “There were a lot of people that made great contributions to the U.S. military that never got any recognition. A memorial at Arlington Cemetery is a good idea.”
Sandelin has solicited support from the Special Forces Association, a veterans organization with chapters around the world. Sandelin agreed to write a letter to retired Colonel Jack Tobin, a Mint Hill friend who is president of the Special Forces Association, on behalf of the ASA memorial movement.
Carver, a 1972 UNC Charlotte graduate, had lost contact with all of the ASA veterans he served with until about 15 years ago when he started researching names online. He found the whereabouts of about 50 and he has exchanged visits with a few of them.
An avid jogger, Carver decided to accompany his 24-year-old daughter Beth Ann in the Wounded Warrior Project 8K Run event in Norfolk, Va., in early October. As part of an extended weekend trip, the Carver family (including wife Mona) traveled to Washington, D.C.
They visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, at which Carver spotted names of two high school friends. Carver said his generation of Vietnam War veterans is reaching its advanced years, and time may be short for taking any action towards a memorial at Arlington.
“I don’t know how much time we have,” he said. “It needs to be done now.”