By ZOË WATKINS
Often when people turn 18 they don’t know exactly what they want to do. But when Randy Carroll turned 18 in 1968, he knew exactly what he wanted to do: join the U.S. Navy.
It made sense, especially since his three older brothers had served.
“My oldest brother and the next oldest, Wayne and Jerry, joined under the brother system and they were stationed in San Diego, California, on the USS Kitty Hawk,” recalled Carroll. Sadly, Wayne was killed in a car accident near Baha, Calif.
Carroll’s other brother, Bobby, was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in Vietnam. Carroll, on the other hand, volunteered.
“Mother and Dad wouldn’t sign for me,” Carroll said, cracking a smile.
He graduated from Central High School in 1968 when he was just 17 years old.
“I wanted to serve my country like my brothers, so 11 days after I turned 18, I signed the form,” he said.
From Shelbyville, he went to San Diego, to boot camp from August to December.
At 5 foot 9 and weighing in at 125 pounds, Carroll described himself as the athletic, competitive type. So when it came time to the Navy’s intense training — which included learning how to fight fires and dive in deep waters — he liked the challenge.
“It was always a plus for me if I could do well at something,” he said. “The mentality was that you’re going save your buddy’s life and their going to save your life.
“We were a team.”
Originally, Carroll said he wanted to be in aviation — specifically air traffic control. He was qualified to be in aviation but he had loss of hearing in one of his ears, which disqualified him.
So, the Navy had something else for him: aviation electronics technician. From San Diego, Carroll went to Millington Air Station, outside of Memphis. Here he went through both aviation and electronics training until the summer of 1969. Then he got his permanent duty station at NATTC (Naval Air Technical Training Center) in Jacksonville, Fla., where he worked on electronic gear. While there he also served as one of the three drivers for the captain of the base.
In June of 1970, Carroll married his Shelbyville girlfriend. Then he got orders to go to sea.
“Soon as I came back from the honeymoon I had orders to go to the USS Saratoga and aircraft carrier,” he said.
“Eleven months after we were married, we had a little baby. And the baby was one month old, standing with my dad and my wife, on the docket at Mayport when I pulled off to go out to sea. Rough day,” Carroll said.
“We missed one another. But I had a job to do.”
On the USS Saratoga, a ship that carried 4,500 men, Carroll was assigned to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Studio as an E4 and third in command.
“We had movies and had a closed-circuit TV system just like the cable system on the ship, all black and white TVs—180-something of them,” Carroll recalled.
Working anywhere from 17 hours a day, Carroll said they ran a 24-hour easy-listening and country music radios. They also had a live DJ booth and got the newest songs. For movies they operated VTR, 16 mm film.
Carroll talks about it as if it was yesterday.
“That’s the way you could give back to the people who were working on the ship,” he said.
“Being on the ship you get used to all kinds of different things — the little hatchways you have to step through. When you take a shower sometimes it would be freshwater or saltwater. Sometimes the water would go out.”
Back in those days, too, letters took as much as 10 to 14 days to get delivered.
On his ship, they went on maneuvers in the Caribbean. Then they got orders to go to the North Atlantic to interact and play “war games” with the allies.
“The ship deck was 80 feet off of the water, and there were waves that would come up on top of it. Rough in the North Atlantic. Rough,” said Carroll.
Being on an aircraft carrier, the ship would take those dips. But the destroyers on each corner would take the hit, instead of the carrier.
“When you look off of that carrier, all you see is water. That’s it,” said Carroll. “But I just kept pressing on and I knew my job. I’ve always been goal-oriented so I wanted to move up the ladder in my job and do my best job I could for the Navy.”
From the North Atlantic, they went to Scotland and Carroll took the tour of Edinburgh.
By 1971, they went to the Mediterranean, to Spain, France, Italy, and maintained a presence around Egypt and Israel as tensions rose throughout the 70s.
“We had the Vietnam War going on at the time, too,” said Carroll.
Once back at Mayport, Carroll, his wife, and their baby lived between there and Jacksonville. “Lived there and was enjoying life. And then all of a sudden the ship got orders to go to Vietnam,” he said.
But Carroll said at the time he had only 45 days left on a four-year enlistment. So he stayed in the Jacksonville, Mayport area, where he mustered out.
Once back home, he got out three months early to go to Motlow to study information technology.
Outside of two years military reserve, Carroll said simply, “That was my military career.”
But for him and the many men and women who have served, Veterans’ Day still means something. Carroll said he still gets emotional listening to the National Anthem.
“I’m so proud of the United States of America,” said Carroll. “Veterans’ Day makes me so proud of all those people.”