Veteran showcase: Carl Virden

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Carl Virden
Carl Virden was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967. Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

Carl Virden grew up in Redondo Beach. When he was 19 years old, he was drafted into the Army Aug. 8, 1967.

“I had just been married July 8, thinking the draft had missed me,” he said.

After only one month of wedded bliss, Virden was off to boot camp. His basic training was at Fort Ord, which closed in 1994 due to base realignment and closure action.

“Before I was drafted, I had been working at North American Aviation in a warehouse filling parts orders for the space program,” he said. “After basic training, where I learned that I could endure much more than I ever thought possible, I got orders to report to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for on-job training in company supply with the 132nd Armor.”

Shortly after his assignment, he received a two-week Christmas leave. The plan was to move his wife to Kentucky where they would live off-post in the small town of West Point, Kentucky, on the Ohio River.

“However, she had just totaled our 1961 Chevrolet Corvair, so our plan seemed doomed,” Virden said.

Luckily, his uncle met him at LAX airport and, still in his dress greens, drove him straight to a wrecking yard in Compton and bought a stripped Corvair body.

“My uncle and I worked for four days straight building a road-worthy car out of the wrecked car and the stripped body. A few days later, pulling a 12-foot enclosed trailer, we were on our way to Kentucky,” he said.

The trip took four days, and the car held together. A few months later, Virden got orders for Vietnam.

“I arrived at the Long Bin, Vietnam, replacement center in late June 1968. I will never forget the moment I stepped off that Continental airliner. It was as though I had been instantly wrapped in a hot, wet blanket. Being a beach boy, I had never experienced real heat or humidity,” Virden said.

His next duty was with the 716th Military Police Battalion in Cholon, a quarter in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

“The Tet Offensive had taken place a few months earlier, and I was a replacement for one the 27 killed and 45 wounded in the 716th,” he said. “Though my military occupation status was in company supply, I was assigned to 12 hours on, 12 hours off guard duty as an acting MP at various Army officers’ and enlisted men’s quarters. It was mostly boring but also with some excitement during the next couple of months until I was assigned to the company supply room.

“Still pulling MP guard duty from time to time, my tour in Vietnam was pretty mundane with the exception of some Viet Cong rockets being fired into the city during the nights,” Virden said.

Midway through his Vietnam tour, he took a seven-day R & R in Hawaii where he rented a new 1969 Chevy Camaro and a new Datsun 1600 sports car to tool around on the island.

“When I got back to Vietnam I went to the Saigon PX and ordered a 1969 Camaro SS to be delivered at Les Vogel Chevrolet in San Francisco when I was to exit from the Army. I still have that Camaro today,” he said proudly.

After his military service, he attended community college under the GI Bill and received an associate degree in construction technology, after first studying civil engineering. He became a union carpenter in 1972 and retired in 2004.

After his retirement, Virden caught the acting bug, working in films, TV shows and commercials over the next 10 years. He became a member of the Screen Actors Guild.

“In 2015 my wife, Karen, decided Lake Riverside Estates was the place we ought to be. So here we are, enjoying paradise,” he said.

He and his wife fit are well-respected in the tight equestrian community, sharing their knowledge of horses and organizing events.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.