Anyone sizing up the tremendous strides made in veterans care and proper celebration of local veterans has only to mark the many pursuits and priorities of Robert “Popeye” Carter. This covers everything from participation in the uphill but ultimately victorious battle to save the then-Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center from closure, to managing the massive, popular Veterans Day Parade downtown, to helping steer the Veterans One Stop to its present-day success as a welcoming, all-purpose center to assist veterans, whatever the challenge.
Given his long service in the Army and Army Reserves, including duty in the Middle East during the Gulf War, Carter understood the sacrifices of those who serve in combat and the enormous need to help them adjust upon returning home. In his 64 years, his insights counted for more than retelling old war stories; he put insight into action, ensuring veterans’ greater fulfillment in daily life and thus making our society all the better.
All of which only adds to the grief the veterans community feels after his death in a vehicular crash in East Texas as he and wife Roxanna concluded the long Thanksgiving weekend. His departure not only robs Waco of a dedicated, engaging and focused public servant but also underlines how many among us will be required to properly assume all that he has done and continued to do.
That’s a heady call to duty. As our friend Lloyd Coffman, Military Order of the Purple Heart national service officer and president of the McLennan County Veterans Association, told a Trib editorial board member inquiring of his friend’s greatest accomplishment: “It was his willingness to put himself out there and let it be known that he was there to help all veterans, wherever they may be, no matter what the problem. The Veterans One Stop was his pride and joy.”
Friend and fellow veterans champion Bill Mahon stresses Carter’s stubborn belief in each and every veteran in need: “He gave his knowledge, his empathy and his heart. Robert did not give up on a vet till he was satisfied with all the information he had to offer. Robert could put himself in the veteran’s shoes and ask himself: ‘What do I need? What will help me and my family the most right now?’”
Coffman said many of Carter’s efforts were undertaken to make the public and politicians more aware of the challenges facing veterans: “Nationally he wanted veterans to make their voices heard and become that ‘band of brothers’ who made it known to Congress what veterans are suffering from and what they need. He wanted vets to call their senators and congressmen with their concerns and not simply complain when things didn’t happen the way the vets wanted. Robert used to say a veteran’s silence is his/her worst enemy. Locally he wanted all veterans to have a representative to guide and assist them when it came to getting VA benefits, be it the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart and all the rest of the service organizations there to help. He did not want vets trying to go it alone.”
Robert Carter set an inspiring example for the rest of us to consider and emulate — first putting himself wherever his country needed him, then remembering fellow veterans when society was ready to simply forget them and move on.