Keeper of the flags

Left, Colin Carter’s friend Sam Barnett, who was killed in Vietnam. Right, Colin placing a flag at the grave of a Civil War veteran who is buried in the Lyndon Center Cemetery.Colin Carter

On a crisp, sunny, October day in Lyndon Center Cemetery, Colin Carter demonstrates how to find a veteran’s grave. 

“Look for a marker on a stake,” he says. He finds one right away and shows that the back of the marker has a place to hold a flag. He puts the flag he’s been carrying into the marker and watches it wave in the sunlight.“This marker indicates that he was from the civil war.”  He points to another marker that indicates the man buried there fought in the American Revolution. 

The cemetery has many veteran markers without flags something that Colin has spent decades trying to remedy.

It all started when the Vietnam War ended in 1979. Like many of his fellow soldiers, he brought some of the war home with him in the form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  As a way to deal with the disorder, Colin found visiting cemeteries soothing.  He noticed that many of the graves of fallen soldiers had flags that were tattered.  He went to the American Legion and asked for flags to replace the ones that were worn. He used up all their flags and tried to find more. He found the Whitefield Flag Company, but was told he better order a bunch because they were going out of business.  He and his wife, Evelyn, bought the company and moved it to Glover and renamed it North Country Flag Company in 1999. 

Born in Holland and raised in Derby. Colin attended Derby Academy, which is now North Country Union High School. When he graduated from Derby Academy in 1966, he wanted to travel so he joined the Naval Reserves.

“I joined when I was just 17 and a junior in high school.  I did basic training in Weymouth, Mass. during the summer between my junior and senior years in high school,” he remembers.

Life in the reserves left a lot of free time.

“We trained one weekend a month and I flew out of Burlington for training in Yuma, Ariz. and trained to do administrative work in Olathe, Kan.” After, Colin was activated for two years and assigned to the Naval Air Squadron in Norfolk, Va. on the Aircraft Carrier USS Randolph.  It was aboard the Randolph that Colin got his first taste of travel.  The Randolph sailed to Italy, Spain, and Gibraltar. After serving two years on the Randolph, Colin was given a chance to serve on the USS America, at the time, one of the most modern aircraft carriers in the fleet. 

“The America was planning a round the world cruise,” Colin said.“I ran an office that was in charge of all maintenance.  I never felt in danger, though we lost pilots on runs into Vietnam.  We went to Rio De Janeiro, around Cape Horn in Africa and to Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines.” 

The America brought Colin home in 1968.“I bought myself a Ford Mustang and found myself in front of a judge a few times,” he says.“Finally, the judge told me that I could either go into the military full-time or I wouldn’t like the alternative, so I enlisted in the Navy and became a radioman.”  As he was awaiting orders, he was told,“Don’t worry, you’ll be going to Vietnam.” 

I was stationed in Cat Lai Naval Base in Northeastern Saigon encrypting and decrypting radio transmissions with a code that had to be changed every day.   Then he was sent to the Dong Tam Delta base with river boats that patrolled inland waterways carrying three American service men and 10-12 Vietnamese soldiers.  When it was announced there would be no Christmas leave for the sailors who manned the river boats, Colin says he volunteered to cover a position so others could go home for the holidays.  This decision would put him in harm’s way and on Jan. 23, 1971, Colin was injured while on patrol. 

He often reflects,“I was one of the lucky ones.  Others paid with their lives.”  He talks about one friend in particular, Sam Barnett, who was also on patrol two days earlier.“He was my best friend.  We both extended our service term and I went home and got married.  Sam was married about Jan. 3 and was killed on Jan. 21 while out on patrol.”

Colin is now divorced but still maintains the practice of honoring fallen soldiers with flags at their graves every Memorial Day.  He visits 20-25 cemeteries a year in Vermont and New Hampshire. While local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts place the flags for Memorial Day, Colin spends the summer replacing any that go missing.

His travels have led him to a few remote cemeteries with interesting stories to tell. He was once told about a cemetery, located in a farmer’s field, and not well-maintained.  He found the cemetery in a clump of trees growing in a stone pile.  The only marker he found belonged to Abigale Moon, who had died in 1812, probably in child birth. 

“I went to another cemetery located on the Derby/Holland town line and found where her husband was buried,” he says.“After her death, he remarried.  He and his second wife had a daughter who they named Abigale.”

He also once located a remote cemetery in Danville that no one maintained. 

“I have not been able to relocate this cemetery, but have spoken to folks who are aware of it,” he says.“Seems there was a family disagreement many years past regarding the cemetery and it has been abandoned.  If memory serves me correctly, there are about 30 graves in that location.  The cemetery is located on a class 4 road.  Perhaps some of your readers can help to locate this again and we can provide the care and respect that is overdue.”

He also works with the organization,“Sons and Daughters in Touch,” which unites the children of fallen service men and women.  He was invited to Washington D.C. on Father’s Day in 2000 to the Vietnam Memorial to speak and to read one of his many poems, which he started writing while serving in Vietnam. He is also in touch with Samuel Hoyt Barnett Jr., son of his best friend who died in Vietnam. Through these connections and through his poetry and honoring the fallen soldiers with fresh flags...symbol of continued remembrance and honor, Colin, seeks to put his own war demons to rest and help others do the same.