James H. “Pat” Carothers, Jr. (Courtesy photo)

WWII, Korea and Vietnam veteran Carothers, 91, passes

When World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veteran James H. “Pat” Carothers retired from the U.S. Marine Corp in 1979, he was the most decorated Marine serving in the Corps, according to Leatherneck Magazine.

That legacy found its final resting place April 16 as Pat Carothers passed at Bartlett Regional Hospital. He’s survived by his wife Elsie Carothers and four adult sons.

Elsie and two of those sons, Brian Carothers and Dan Carothers, stopped by the Empire recently to talk about their father and husband’s legacy.

“He was a strong man, very strong man, very dedicated man. If he believed in something, he did it all the way,” Elsie, 81, said.

Pat joined the Marine Corps three months shy of turning 18, completing boot camp in his hometown of San Diego. He worked his way up in the corps from private to lieutenant colonel, ending his career after three wars, including two tours in Vietnam. He retired in 1979 after 36 years of service.

In that time, he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental technology, became a master parachutist, completed 600 military jumps, studied Vietnamese, Spanish, Japanese, French and Mandarin, and punched his way to a Marine boxing championship as a light heavyweight in the First Marine Division.

The list of Pat’s military medals and decorations is daunting. A profile of him in Leatherneck Magazine, the Marine Corps’ official publication, published the year of his retirement, lists 29 medals and decorations. The article compares him to famed marine Chesty Puller, the most decorated Marine in history. Pat received five Purple Hearts, each given for combat related injuries, and a Silver Star, the third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat

“You’re not far from accurate saying that he’s received pretty much every medal except the Medal of Honor,” said Dan, referencing the United States’ highest military honor.

As military records get declassified and more of Pat’s accomplishments become known, his sons say, the awards keep coming.

“He has medals not just from the United States, he got medals from many foreign countries. Wherever he went, they were giving him medals,” Brian said.

As a military family, the Carotherses moved often, following Pat as he was stationed across the country. There was Cuba, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida.

Pat’s late first wife, Helen, gave birth to five children along the way. James Patrick, the oldest, came first, followed by Juneau resident Dan, then Paul Carothers, Jim Carothers and Patrick Carothers, a Deputy U.S. Marshal who passed away in 2016 in the line of duty.

[A flag finds its home]

Helen raised the boys while Pat was at war, Brian said.

“He was off protecting the U.S., fighting for the flag and being a Marine,” Brian said.

Military bearing filtered down to the boys. “It was boot camp for 18 years,” Brian said. Each boy had a ranking, oldest to youngest.

“We all knew who everybody was. The dog had a rank, too. He was at the bottom and he knew he was at the bottom, but he was there,” Brian said.

After retiring, Pat followed Dan, then an Alaska State Trooper, to Juneau. He opened a private investigation firm, volunteered for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and worked for then-Gov. Tony Knowles. He married Elsie in 1987 and lived with her at his North Douglas home until his death.

Pat requested no ceremony. His ashes will be spread on the ocean at a location the family is choosing to keep private, Dan said. A marker will be located at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Sitka.

Members of the “Greatest Generation,” or those who fought in World War II, are now in their 80s and 90s. Veterans of the conflict are dying at a rate of 362 per day and are predicted to die out by the year 2045, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Only 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2017, according to the National World War II Museum. Only 347 live in Alaska.

By September of 2018, it’s predicted that only 16,349 veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam will still be alive in America, according VA statistics.

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and kgullufsen@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.