Unassuming to a fault with a personality void of haughtily broadcasting his unique education, Fox McCarthy mingles into the community with a style he set in motion after 26 years of service to his country. “Once I took off the uniform a new life with new opportunities awaited me,” he stated. “I did my duty in peace and in war. The time had come to move on.” A West Point graduate, Lt. Col. Fox McCarthy retired in 1979. This is his story.
Rockdale resident Fox McCarthy was born in Chicago, 8 years before the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. “I remember December 7, 1941 very clearly,” he stated. “We were in a state of shock, and very angry our country had been attacked.” The son of a WWI veteran and American Legion Commander, Fox grew up in an environment of respect for the flag, patriotism, and love of country. “I wanted to be a soldier from day one,” he said. “During WWII, I kept up with the war, all the battles, all the victories. It sounds bizarre, but I wanted the war to continue until I was old enough to get into the thick of things. All my buddies wanted to do their share, too.”
After WWII came to a close in 1945, gung-ho 12 year old Fox McCarthy would wait another 23 years before dodging bullets and bombs in a war zone. After graduating high school in 1953, Fox attended the University of Illinois for eighteen months before receiving an appointment to West Point. Describing his first year as a cadet: “Well, pretty chicken if you ask me. A lot of harassment, screaming, but for a reason. I enjoyed the military life, from dawn to dusk, and receiving an excellent education. I absorbed the doctrine of, ‘don’t lie, don’t cheat, and don’t steal’…and to take care of your men. The motto, ‘duty, honor, country,’ became a code we lived by. We received tremendous leadership training. For 2 years my company commander was Patton’ son, George Patton, Jr. He was an interesting guy, to say the least. He became a Major General.”
After a basic officer’s course at Fort Benning, 2nd Lt. Fox McCarthy spent the next 3 years in Germany. “I was assigned to 11th Airborne before it was inactivated in 1958 then joined the 6th Battle Group,” he said. “One interesting assignment was the guard platoon at Spandau Prison. I saw the prisoner Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Fuhrer to Adolph Hitler, on a daily basis before the Russians relieved us.” (Note: The four occupying forces in Berlin guarded Spandau Prison on a monthly rotating schedule). Fox was a bit perplexed by his 1st efficiency report: “I was given credit as a ‘good officer’ but ‘too loyal’ to my men,” he said, grinning. “I was doing what I was trained to do, taking care of my men. Didn’t make too much sense to me.”
Fox returned to Fort Benning in 1961 as instructor for a mortar platoon. “Well, that was another interesting assignment,” he said. “I taught fire direction control on the 4.2mm mortar and didn’t know a thing about a 4.2mm mortar. I had to dig into the manuals and study like crazy. I was also assigned to the Davy Crockett XM-28 and XM-29 weapons system. The ‘XM’ meant experimental. The weapon was a jeep-mounted, sub-kiloton system. The crews really improved, knocking out tanks 3 out of 4 times from 2000 to 4000 meters.”
In 1964, then-Captain Fox McCarthy served as a company commander in Korea with the 7th Infantry Division. “Our main garrison was Camp Casey in Dongducheon near the DMZ between South and North Korea,” he said. “During alerts, the ammo and equipment had to be distributed quickly and safely. After one alert, the 1st Sergeant informed me, ‘Sir, we have a problem.’ Our sergeant in charge of quarters was passed out that morning, dead drunk. An assistant took over, got things done, did a great job, but he was scheduled to be kicked out of the army. I went to bat for the assistant, he stayed in, and made a career in the army. I had the sergeant in charge of quarters court-martialed. It saved his life, his marriage, ended his alcoholism…even his wife thanked me.”
1968 - 1969: then-Major Fox McCarthy arrives in Vietnam after a three-year stint at West Point as Public Affairs Officer. “I was assigned to the 1st Air Cav, at that time in I Corp after the Tet Offensive. Because of my public affairs experience at West Point, the commanding general told me upon arrival, ‘You’re the new public affairs officer.’ One problem I was told to clear up was the lack of the division newspaper getting to us from Japan. We had about 18,000 troops in the field and that was their basic news. I found a well-informed soldier and ordered him to Japan to take over publication. I pulled out the soldier in Japan, a guy named Glasglow, then once he returned to Nam royally chewed his butt out for doing such a poor job.”
The 1st Air Cav was eventually pulled out of I Corp and sent northeast of Saigon to Phuoc Vinh. Fox recalled, “I had an excellent rapport with the media and access to a chopper. If something was going on, I’d contact the AP reporters and get them out to the action. No nonsense, no lies, the truth as they saw it. Two days before Thanksgiving, the reporters wanted to stage a publicity stunt for the folks back home. We set up in a ‘safe area’ near Phuoc Vinh. We had choppers fly in the Thanksgiving dinner and troopers were photographed saying their prayers before the meal. The media was real happy, until we got incoming. The ‘safe area’ turned into a pre-Thanksgiving day-long battle. The reporters were not happy campers.”
Surviving the war and staged Thanksgiving dinners, Fox returned to Fort Benning. “I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and assigned over 100 instructors, 70 sergeants, 30 captains, and four majors, each one a combat veteran. We had a five week mortar course for the reserves and taught OCS candidates mortar basics. I enjoyed the duty. America was still in the midst of a Cold War and I can faithfully report our soldiers did well, great soldiers.”
After 3½ years at Fort Benning, Fox received an assignment to Utopia near the Gulf of Thailand. “I was allowed to take my family,” he said. “They stayed in Bangkok and I’d visit them on the weekends. Once again, I was a public affairs officer. My job was to meet any media that came in, but media access was controlled by the Thais and they didn’t allow the media in. I had two captains to brief orientation so my only personal responsibility was putting out a weekly newspaper. I had a trooper with a degree in journalism, so he took over that responsibility. I was bored out of my gourd for 9 months and recommended my job be eliminated. Well, to my surprise, the army did just that.”
Reassigned to Bangkok, Fox completed his two years in Thailand working with Thai customs. Asked what his job entailed, Fox replied with a big grin, “I signed documents all day.” Twenty five Thai custom employees worked under his supervision. “I recall one inbound ship load we just could not get approved. The manifest indicated ‘dog food’ but Thai officials were skeptical. They told me, ‘we don’t feed dogs dog food, they get table scraps!’ They handled the inbound shipment…not really sure what was delivered.”
Fox McCarthy completed his military career at Fort Eustis, Virginia. “Public affairs again, but another great assignment,” he said. “Working for a general and keeping the public happy at the same time is challenging, but doable. I guess in the final analysis, doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.”
A month before his retirement, the Sergeant Major of Public Affairs for the Army stopped by to visit Fox. His name was Glasglow, the soldier Fox had chewed-out in Vietnam. The soldier sent to Japan to replace Glasglow contacted Fox 40 years later. Dying of cancer, he wanted to talk with Fox one more time. Before Fox could reconnect with him the gentleman passed away from complications concomitant with Agent Orange.
In retirement, Fox attended UGA and received a degree in horticulture. Later, he was employed as the first water conservation coordinator for the Cobb County Marietta Water Authority for 10 years. “I had a free- range of things,” he said. “Sort of like a Fox in the hen house, pardon the pun.”
In recent years Fox cultivated his favorite tree for the buyer’s market: the Japanese Maple. His last 700 Japanese Maples were purchased by legendary Auburn football coach, Pat Dye.
His proudest award: “I received a plaque signed by 66 sergeants who worked for me at Fort Benning. It read, ‘Great job, Colonel. We really respect you.’ I guess that says it all.”
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at email@example.com or aveteransstory.us.