J. Dennis Carper, a Baltimore County marina owner and yacht builder who was a decorated World War II veteran, died of stroke and dementia complications Dec. 25 at his Essex home. He was 91.
Born near New Castle, Va., he worked on the family farm at Meadow Creek outside Roanoke. While at a church function, he met Gertrude Esther Hanks, a girl from nearby Covington who was a minister's daughter. They married in 1942.
The couple lived in Virginia while he attended a school for aircraft mechanics. When he heard that the old Glenn L. Martin Co. was hiring at its Middle River plant, he moved to Maryland. He initially roomed at a farmhouse near the plant.
According to a family biography, Mr. Carper was drafted into the Army in 1944. He became a private in the 319th Infantry, 80th Division.
"My father crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary, then a troop carrier," said his son, David H. Carper of Essex. "As soon as he got onboard, he was made a military police officer and served as one throughout the war. The crossing was rough. My father did not get seasick, but he said he lost his taste for cigarettes and never smoked again."
Mr. Carper landed at Utah Beach on the French coast and fought throughout the Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns. He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded twice — once shot in the hip and later cut by a German bayonet. He received two Purple Hearts in addition to other awards.
"He went right back into combat and got all the way to Czechoslovakia. One day he was standing sentry with a Russian. He complained it was cold. The Russian put five gallons of gas on the guard shack and burned it down so they could keep warm," his son said. "He took every shot the medics gave him — he swore by them — and he often slept under a fallen tree at night. He never got sick."
Mr. Carper kept his assignment as a military police officer after the war and guarded judges and prisoners at the Nuremberg trials. He visited nearby countries and studied at an aircraft mechanics school in Wharton, England.
After the war, he returned briefly to the Martin Co. He also considered working at Bethlehem Steel, but found the noise of the heavy machinery reminded him too much of the combat he had recently endured at the Battle of the Bulge. He drove a cab and became a carpenter for homes being built in Ruxton.
Mr. Carper later bought a Baltimore Sun newspaper route and had as many as nine carriers working for him in Victory Villa and Aero Acres.
Mr. Carper then went to work for the Owens Yacht Co. in Dundalk.
Mr. Carper rose in the Owens ranks to become a top foreman, supervising crews in the production of the Owens Yachts, his son said. After Owens was bought by Brunswick Corp., he became vice president in charge of production.
"He had 1,000 men working for him on the assembly line. They made 25 boats a day," his son said. "He told me he called his 12 foremen his lieutenants."
Family members said he saw an opportunity to build his own marina on Back River. He and his wife purchased waterfront property in 1950 and established the Essex Yacht Harbor Marina. One day, his wife decided to enlarge the marina, argued successfully before a bank president, and bought part of the old Essex Country Club.
He ran a pile driver and used old telephone poles to enlarge the marina-boatyard, a 15-acre tract that remains in family hands. He built his own boat trailer and moved boats for his customers and dealers.
"My parents were a team," the son said.
"Dennis loved the marina and his longtime customers, who were like his family," said his daughter-in-law, Maureen T. Carper, who lives in Essex. "He conducted his business deals in the old-fashioned way with a handshake. He was a decent, kind and hardworking man. Folks always described him as the 'salt of the earth.'"
She said her father-in-law "was up at the crack of dawn," had his breakfast and worked at the marina six days a week until 6 p.m.
"Then it was time for family," she said. "It might be a quiet evening at home or out on the boat. He loved being out on the water; he was still water-skiing at age 75."
His family said that his devotion to family meant that if he were in the middle of a business deal, he would suspend it to take his granddaughter out for a boat ride.
Mr. Carper was a lifetime member of the Charles Evering Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and also belonged to the Marine Trades Association of Baltimore County and the Chesapeake Wooden Boat Association. He had been a deacon at Kenwood Presbyterian Church.
In addition to his wife of 70 years and son, survivors include his granddaughter and great-granddaughter. Another son, Michael Carper, died in 1982.
A memorial service is being planned.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun