Tribute to John Carpenter

Image of bagpiper John Carpenter

On October 5, 2013, John Carpenter, a man I admire greatly and consider my bagpiping mentor left this world for a better place after a lengthy illness.

Our paths first crossed in 1993 when I was setting up the first Fallen Firefighter Memorial for the Corpus Christi Fire Department and needed a bagpiper for the occasion. At the time, John was the only bagpiper around so we REALLY needed his help. Even though John worked long hours at his full-time job at the Corpus Christi Army Depot, from 1993 to 1998 he willingly and frequently gave of his time and talent to provide bagpipe music at fire department functions. John did all of this…at no charge, not a dime. He later began teaching several of us to play…again at no charge. It was John’s generous spirit that has inspired me to teach for no fee all these years…I guess to pay it forward.  Lots of people give of themselves when there is something in it for them, but John wasn’t like “lots of people”. Although he could be tough and stubborn, John was always generous and had a kind heart.  He loved his family beyond measure. They were the pride of his life. Our daughters both became competitive Irish dancers and thru that Lisa and I grew close to his wife Chris and their daughter Colleen.  We’ve shared many crazy memories traveling to dance competitions all over Texas and beyond and spent countless evenings visiting and relishing in their razor sharp sense of humor. Colleen is truly one of my “second daughters”.

A bit of John’s interesting history – After graduating from high school in 1966 John volunteered for the Army and was sent right to Vietnam in 1967. He was an Airborne Ranger in the Signal Corps and served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. While fighting during the TET Offensive he was shot, claymored, and bayoneted. He was sent home to finish his three year obligation and received the Purple Heart for his injuries. Home from Vietnam, John went on many adventures. He backpacked throughout Europe and Ireland and spent a year living in Kenya where he befriended the Maasai, spoke Swahili, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and helped catch a python for the local zoo. (Note: I only learned of this information when attending John’s funeral. I had known him for 20 years and he never spoke about any of this) A true “Quiet Man”.

John’s Scottish heritage and bagpipe music were some of his passions in life. When his father passed away John inherited his father’s bagpipes. John’s dad was a CB during WWII in the Pacific theater. Following the surrender of Germany in Europe the British Army sent troops to the Pacific campain where John’s father befrended some of the Scots. He traded a sword for a set of Scottish Military issue pipes. John took this inhearited set of pipes and taught himself to play. In his free time, John played for his own enjoyment and that of his family.

The great lessons I have learned from John Carpenter are to give of yourself freely in ways that make a difference and to never give up on people. He never gave up on me as a struggling beginner piper. He taught me more than just how to play. He has been a dynamic role model and has given me a legacy to pass on. The bagpipe presence in Corpus Christi today is a direct result of a generous man, a man who would not even want these words spoken about him, a man who has never sought personal gain or accolades, a man named John Carpenter.

I am reminded of the poem from Neil Munro. Part of it goes like this:

To the make of a piper go seven years of his own learning,
and seven generations before.

At the end of his seven years 
one born to it will stand at the start of knowledge, 
and leaning a fond ear to the drone
he may have parley with old folks of old affairs. 

– Neil Munro

I’d like to think…from now on, every time I strike up the pipes to play a tune, John is still with me, listening to the drones and the shrill of the pipes and giving me strength. It is my honor to carry on his legacy of teaching those who wish to learn the bagpipes.  Rest in Peace John.