Dan Carr ’64

September 01, 2010

By Stephen M. Combs ’66

In five years of Navy active duty, Dan Carr made the rank of lieutenant—but not because of any zeal for military drill and ceremony. “I didn’t even own a pair of dress whites,” he said while recalling a formal inspection, “so I wore a uniform loaned to me by an older officer.” Carr didn’t bother to change the service ribbons—a seemingly minor detail not lost on the crusty old inspecting admiral. “A little young to be a Korean War veteran, aren’t you, son?” the admiral commented.

Carr jokes he never joined the airlines because “I didn’t like uniforms or unions.” While the Navy’s uniform didn’t suit him, its airplanes did. In two Vietnam tours, he flew more than 150 carrier-launched bombing missions. He knows the exhilaration of being shot at but not hit, and the pain of knowing others weren’t so lucky: on December 26, 1969, he was aboard the Coral Sea when a plane navigated by fellow Rollins alumnus LTJG Dustin C. “Dusty” Trowbridge ’66 went down in the Gulf of Tonkin. His body was never recovered.

Carr came to the Navy from law school, where “I was so poor I lived on bologna,” he said. Draft-avoidance wasn’t worth this, he decided—and he had no appetite for a legal career anyway. So he quit school after one semester and found his way to the Seventh Fleet. On the carrier, he said, “Two things were important every day: getting my mission out of the way, and what’s the movie tonight.”

Now, at 68, Carr will fly a war plane once again: this time an A-4C Skyhawk he and Porter Spangler, a high school buddy from Winter Park, are building at Sanford International Airport with parts acquired from around the world. The aircraft is similar to those Carr piloted 40 years ago. Spangler found the major sections for the plane six years ago, and today the project is almost completed. After ground and flight tests, Carr will undergo refresher training and then take the Skyhawk for a spin.

“It’s taken a lot more time than I expected, and a lot more money,” Carr said of the project. “But that’s the nature of a labor of love.” Their costs include hangar space and three fulltime mechanics. The Federal Aviation Administration is close by, approving every part, each tagged with a number, and every procedure. Stacks of manuals litter the construction site.

It’s an ambitious undertaking considering it’s a “side job” for Carr, who owns his own construction company. He found himself drawn to the construction industry while still in high school after watching his father work long hours as a heavy-equipment operator. Carr worked hard himself, earning a scholarship to Rollins. His tenacity paid off: He has built one of Central Florida’s largest construction operations, Southland Construction, Inc., specializing in road building and other large commercial projects. His two sons, Danny and Tyler ’03, have joined dad in the business.

“Dan came from a solid, supporting family of very modest means. He has high morals, and that goes back to the family,” Spangler said. “I’ll say one thing though. I don’t remember Dan Carr ever saying anything harsh to anybody, but he’d knock you flat on the football field. If you had to be in a foxhole, he’s the guy you’d want with you.”

As they sat in the hangar one Saturday morning, the two friends bantered.

“Until we get this aircraft flying, it’s a very expensive static display,” Carr quipped.

“For the love of the airplane—and the Navy,” Spangler reminded him.

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