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A hero's movie

Theater honors 2nd ID soldier

Carey Theater honors the actions of Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Alvin Carey. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Alvin Carey's life story would make for a wonderful movie.

Born in Lycippus, Pennsylvania, a year before the construction of Camp Lewis in 1917, he grew up in nearby Laughlintown.

The writers of the script of his life would point out that Carey was reserved, fond of reading and enjoyed an activity that he described as "solituding."

He would also be described as a muscular five-foot-six young man who lettered in both football and baseball at Ligonier Valley High School.

Graduating in 1935 and without the money to go to college, he worked at various jobs.

With World War II going on in Europe, Carey enlisted in the Army Jan. 24, 1941.

After basic training, he was assigned to K Company, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. A natural leader, Carey earned the rank of staff sergeant.

As America prepared to liberate Europe from German occupation, Carey landed in France June 7, 1944 -- the day after the D-Day landings at Normandy.

But it is what Carey did Aug. 23, 1944, outside the French village of Plougastel in the province of Brittany that would rivet an audience of movie watchers to their seats.

As Carey and his soldiers moved through a hot summer's afternoon, they made contact with a German force. From about 200 yards away on the ridgeline of Hill 154, German soldiers in a pillbox unleashed withering machine gun fire.

Carey and his team scrambled for cover, set up their guns and returned fire.

As the deadly fight between the machine gunners continued, Carey crawled among his men, gathered up as many hand grenades as he could and stuffed them into his pockets.

With these and his M1 carbine, he began the slow and deadly crawl up the hill toward the German emplacement.

Fifty yards away from the objective, he encountered a German soldier sent to stop him.

Carey killed him with his carbine.

As the machine gun fire continued, Carey finally reached a point just beneath the muzzle flashes coming from the narrow slit in the concrete face of the pillbox.

To throw a grenade into the emplacement, he had to expose himself to the fire.

Carey hurled grenade after grenade, but to no avail. Zeroed in on his position, a burst of machine gun fire hit him, mortally wounding him.  

Bleeding to death, Carey summoned all his strength, got up and pitched one final grenade into the pillbox, killing the crew and silencing the guns.    

Seeing this, Carey's soldiers took Hill 154 and ended German resistance in the area.

In May 1945, President Harry Truman posthumously awarded Staff Sgt. Alvin Carey the Medal of Honor.

While the script about Carey has yet to be written and the movie produced, a perfect theater for its first showing would be Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Carey Theater.

Built in 1949 and 1950, the theater was the largest of its kind (with 1,004 seats) and was the first designed using Art Deco details. Special features included porthole windows, use of granite in the lobby and a brass water fountain.

Named in honor of Carey, the theater became a place where soldiers and their families gathered to watch the movies of the day.

In 2007, Carey Theater was renovated, and many of the features from the original theater were retained.

One of those features is that of the bravery of the quiet soldier from Pennsylvania assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division who gave his life to protect his men.

That's a movie worth making and seeing.

Credits: Dr. Duane Denfeld, JBLM Cultural Resources Program, contributed to this article.

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