A life of service beyond war

Published May 28, 2007

SPRING HILL - Frank Carroll recalls with fondness a few moments he spent in an airport awhile back on his way to visit family.

While waiting for his flight to be called, he caught sight of a couple of soldiers near the boarding gate. Their faces aglow with the vigor of youth, they stood in their crisp uniforms and smiled at him.

Carroll, who prides himself in making friends easily, walked over and struck up a conversation with the young men. Remembering their words still tugs at his heart.

"They said were on their way back to Iraq, " Carroll recalled. "They were so eager. They said they couldn't wait to get back. To me, that's what being a soldier is all about. Having pride in doing your job and doing it well no matter what the situation."

Carroll knows the feeling well. He spent much of World War II as a radio operator cramped inside the bitter cold cockpit of a Navy B-24 patrol bomber as it traversed the North Atlantic in search of German submarines. Though combat situations were infrequent, every mission was filled with high risk.

Each 12-hour flight took Carroll and his 10 crew members 2, 000 miles into the ocean to help escort supply ships through territory well-patrolled by the enemy. The inherent risk of such missions tested the patience, skill and courage of every crew member.

"You never knew what each day would bring, " Carroll said of the 44 missions he flew, often in horrendous weather. "You were challenged on so many levels. One mistake could cost you your life. Nothing was guaranteed."

For the most part, Carroll's bomber squadron was lucky. Losses were relatively few considering the hazards crews routinely faced. By war's end, the 7th Air Wing had scored 14 confirmed submarine kills, one of the best records of any Naval patrol outfit in the North Atlantic.

At age 83, Carroll has the physique of a man 20 years younger. Though he talks with enthusiasm about his war experiences, it's not because he loved the war itself. Rather, he has come to realize that it touched his life in ways he's still yet to fully comprehend.

"Going through it changed me, mostly for the good, " Carroll said from the living room of his modest Spring Hill home. "It helped me settle down, work toward making a good life and to do good things that would help others."

After the war, Carroll returned to Long Island, N.Y. He married the sister of a soldier he had met in Navy training school and together he and Marian set out on a long life together. Carroll's work included at one time or another jobs as a commercial artist, professional photographer, carpenter and high school teacher.

Shortly after retiring to Spring Hill in 1990, Marian's health began to fail. Toward the end, the Carrolls turned to Pasco-Hernando Hospice for help in Marian's care. It was the beginning of a relationship that would inspire Frank Carroll toward what he considers the most rewarding career of his life.

Shortly after his wife's passing in 1994, Carroll signed on as a volunteer caregiver with Pasco-Hernando Hospice. On his application, he told the agency he would help in any capacity needed.

During his 12 years as a hospice volunteer, Carroll logged more than 3, 000 hours as a counselor and helped to coordinate activities for clients in nursing homes.

Most of all, he was a friend. According to Jane Freeman, community relations coordinator with Pasco-Hernando Hospice, Carroll enjoyed bringing cheer to people whose spirits were sorely in need of lifting.

"He always had a joke ready, " Freeman offered. "Everyone looked forward to his visits."

Not surprisingly, Carroll developed a special bond with other veterans his age. He listened to their stories, shared remembrances and supported them as they fought life's final battle. And after they were gone, he took up the role of bereavement counselor, contacting family members to see how they were holding up.

"I'm fortunate to have been born with a personality that allowed me to be comfortable with all kinds of situations, " Carroll said. "I just tried to put myself in other people's shoes. I tried to be there for them to help them as they tried to get through the worst of it."

These days finds Carroll helping others to learn more about the veterans who served the armed forces in World War II. Two years ago, he contributed an article to Bomber Legends magazine, in which he shared his story along with personal photos from his days with the 7th Air Wing. Along with the six surviving members of his flight crew, he is helping work toward completing a scrapbook detailing their Navy service.

"We're all getting up there in years and my kids have been hounding me to get it done, " Carroll said. "I don't know if anyone will think all that much about it, but to me, it's kind of special. It was a big part of my life."

A life that has been well lived.

Logan Neill can be reached at 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.