Lessons From War

Today we’re launching our Lessons From War project that features interviews with prominent Americans who served during Vietnam or have other ties to the Vietnam War, as well as other military operations. Jan Scruggs, VVMF founder and president, conducts the interviews with each of these Americans that will be featured on the blog each Thursday through Veterans Day 2012.

Marshall Carter

Marshall Carter became Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange in 2005 and now, after the NYSE merger with the European stock exchanges, is the Deputy Chairman of the parent company NYSE-EURONEX. Marsh Carter is a West Point graduate who became a   USMC officer serving in Vietnam.  There he saw extensive combat and was wounded and decorated with the Navy Cross. He had a lengthy business career, rising to the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the State Street Bank in Boston.

Q: What led you to be a Marine officer instead of a leader in the Army?

A: My dad and both grandfathers were career Army officers, having gone to either West Point or VMI, and I wanted to do something different and not live under their shadow.

Q: Some of the M16 rifles in Vietnam had problems, but not the ones issued to your Marines. What did you do to make them reliable weapons? 

A: We were told to fire 150 rounds from the new M16s, but my Gunnery Sergeant Tom Thompson (deceased 1995 Agent Orange lung cancer) said that wasn’t enough and the rifles still seemed “stiff.”  So, we fired another 300 rounds through them and they were loosened up, so then we didn’t have the trouble many units had.

Q: What were the conditions that your infantry company faced in Vietnam?

A: It was a combination of enemy units from the North Vietnamese Army, main force Viet Cong units and local guerrillas—all of which were excellent fighters and we had to aggressively patrol our areas. We were in a mixed village, rice paddy, jungle area south of Da Nang.

Q: How about when you returned? Tell what was it like getting a job and recovering from the war.

A: I did a second tour in 1970-71 and didn’t leave the USMC until the end of the war in 1975. It was difficult to even get an interview at a company, due to people hating the war and seemingly blaming the servicemen for the war. I was rejected by 85 companies before Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City offered me a mid-level position. There was also the perception by the public, possibly fed by newspaper and media articles, that Vietnam veterans had used drugs, committed war crimes and were having trouble adjusting to the civilian world.

Q: You are a big success professionally and well respected. What advice do you have for young people now leaving the military who are starting a career or an education?

A: I would say that their military experience is a true asset to the leadership training and experiences. I would also say that the three most important leadership or management skills you need for success are:

  1. Technical competence in the job
  2. Ability to communicate well with others
  3. Adaptability, because the business world changes every 6 to 18 months

You have an advantage because those three are all especially well regarded in the military.

Q: You and I took a trip to Vietnam as tourists a decade ago. You donated the money for a library in Quang Tri City. What do you think of Vietnam as a tourist destination?

A: It’s probably one of the most beautiful counties in the world. Remember, we were the only nation that fought in Vietnam that didn’t strip the country of its wealth like the French, Japanese and Russians tried to do when they were there.

Q: You have been intimately involved with the Education Center at The Wall—what is your motivation? 

A: Yes, I think the Education Center at The Wall is a great addition to the National Mall and will again make the The Wall a memorial like no other.  It will educate subsequent generations about the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform make and will educate them about the need for world peace.