9523rd AFRES

Jim at a Veteran's Day event in the early 2000's

Jim at a Veteran’s Day event in the early 2000’s

When I first met Jim he was an active member of the Jamestown unit of the Air Force Recovery Squadron. One weekend a month he had to spend the entire weekend at the airport doing something with a bunch of airplanes and military men. Then, to top it off, they went to somewhere exotic, like Rapid City, South Dakota, every year for two weeks for extended training. I didn’t understand why he was spending all that time with the Air Force.

This and the next couple of letters describe the second half of Jim’s military career. It’s a long and involved story that deserves the three letters he invests in it. He was adamant about getting his time in, making up weekends when he couldn’t get to the scheduled one, even when they moved to Fargo, a hundred miles away. I just didn’t understand how he could give up a weekend of camping and fun to run off to the airport so often.

The other thing I didn’t understand is how much he was teaching me by example. He had a goal in mind, a goal that was years in the making. I was only a teenager when I learned about his dedication to the Air Force Reserve so the idea of investing in a goal for something thirty years out was impossible for me to imagine. In fact, as I aged it became clear that my past limited my view of the future. I don’t recall exactly when I figured it out, but at age twenty I could only see twenty years into the future. Retirement was beyond my comprehension. Now that I’ve reached retirement age, the future is all too clear.

Jim could see far enough to know that retirement would be something to plan for. Between his military retirement and Tri-Care military medical insurance his decision in 1962 allowed him to live the last years of his life in relative comfort and plenty.

Jim writes:

After spending ten years in the Navy and all those years spent on different types of ships at sea it was a startling change of military careers when I enlisted in the Air Force Reserve in August of 1962.

Being completely landlocked in the midwest didn’t offer much in the way of advancement and training in a Naval career field. At this time there was a small Naval Reserve unit headquartered in Fargo on the NDSU campus. It wasn’t very active and had little to offer. Thru a friend in Jamestown, Dave Robertson (of AAU fame!) I learned that there was an Air Force Reserve Unit right here under my nose and I wasn’t even aware of it! Continue reading

Naval Language

WWII Navy

Jim (c) and two friends early in the war.

On first reading the title of this letter from Jim my thoughts went to cussing sailors. Then I thought, “Wait a minute! Jim wasn’t much of a cusser.” What’s the deal with this letter?

Jim tells the story of what he learned in Navy boot camp in 1941, a couple of months before World War II erupted into the American consciousness. In his own indomitable (one of his favorite words) way he relates boot camp not to the normal deprivations and indignities, but to the new words he had to learn. Naval Language.

Within the first paragraph  I was ready to learn new words for all sorts of things. Not this time. He learned his lesson well. On the surface, this letter is a lengthy list of definitions and new terms he learned in boot camp. He missed one term that I clearly remember him using after my first month at NDSU. I had moved in and had lived in the dorm for a couple of weeks before he had Air Guard drill in Fargo. He told me that he was eager to see my “quarters.” I couldn’t figure that out. I didn’t have a coin collection that amounted to anything. The few coins I had were mostly pennies. Why would he want to see my quarters? Oh. Naval Language for the place you slept.

All of the other terms Jim describes were quite familiar to me. Over the years he used every one of them many times. He was only one of thousands of WWII veterans that brought new language back to the states. Until reading this letter I didn’t know how much he really learned in boot camp.

Jim writes:

Boot camp or recruit training is a profound shock to most recruits because the navy begins its job of building men by destroying the identity they brought with them. Their heads are shaved. They are assigned numbers. The drill instructor is their Mother, Father, their God!

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Dar Es Salaam

Jim and Uganda friend at the NDCUL office in Jamestown ND.

Jim and Uganda friend at the NDCUL office.

Jim worked for the North Dakota Credit Union League for several years. A highlight of those years was when the League partnered with an NGO out of Uganda. A group of people came over from Uganda to observe credit union operations in rural America, attempting to learn how to set up credit unions back home. The group toured North Dakota with Jim hosting them on several jaunts to local credit unions.

I had a brief opportunity to meet the group. The most striking thing about them was their blackness. As a Jamestown kid who hadn’t traveled much, these men were absolutely exotic. Perhaps they were to Jim as well. The clue was the name he gave to his new home, specifically the newly finished basement with a pool table. Dar Es Salaam.

In the letter Jim describes how the house was actually a sort of “mother-in-law” apartment for the place next door. That actually was a problem when it was time to sell the house. That’s a story for another day. For now, let’s just say it’s complicated.

Jim writes:

The house at 910 2nd PL NE was built in 1952 for Fredricks Koepplen who was the mother of Ida Krein, her husband Lloyd was the owner of Lloyds Motors, Jamestown. Kreins lived next door to the west. There was a connecting sidewalk between the two. Mrs. Koepplen lived by herself in the house until late 1969. When she could no longer care for herself her daughter and son-on-law moved her into their home and put her house up for sale. When I first looked at the house and the interior I knew it was pretty much what I had been looking for. Continue reading

House Hunting

Jim's House - spring of 1971

Jim’s House – Spring of 1971

I had gone off to college and left Jim living in a great apartment. The apartment had a working fireplace and a wonderful view of the city from atop a hill. I have many wonderful memories of that apartment.

One day when I was home from college for a weekend Jim announced that he was seriously looking at a house. He had tried to buy the apartment house he was living in, a duplex on the hillside, but that deal fell through for whatever reason. With the unbridled knowledge of a nineteen year old “man” I suggested to Jim that moving to that little house by the railroad tracks would be tantamount to disaster.

Fortunately, Jim did not listen to my wisdom. The house was plain and quite unadorned when he moved in. The accompanying photo doesn’t do it justice. By the time Jim moved out in 2007 there were far more trees, bushes, landscaping, flowers, and a large garage. He made the place his own far more than any apartment would have ever been. In his letter below, Jim relates how quickly he made the decision to buy the house.

Sometimes you decide something before knowing there’s a choice. These kind of events have happened to me enough times to doubt the existence of “free will.” When Judy and I bought the house we’re in now we did not make a conscious decision. We looked at each other and agreed, wordlessly, that this was the place. That was over thirty-five years ago and we’re still in the same house. Jim saw this little house on the cul-de-sac and apparently found the decision already settled. It was the right choice for him, too, as he was in that house for almost thirty-five years.

Jim  writes:

In 1970 (I was 46) the thought occured to me that all these years I had been paying rent. First on furnished rooms then on apartments. There wasn’t a solitary thing to account for all that money spent other than the fact that I had a roof over my head and a place to sleep. Continue reading

Willie Handy and His Model T

Ford Model T controls

Ford Model T controls – click to enlarge

For years Judy and I were members of the local chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America. Our car, the 1953 Cadillac, was one of the newer vehicles in the club. Several members owned Model T Fords, including Peter A. On one tour, while we were having lunch at the county historical center he allowed volunteer club members to drive his Model T.

What a hoot! Those of us unfamiliar with the vagaries of such an ancient vehicle had trouble believing that anyone could learn how to drive such a beast. Everything Jim mentions below is absolute truth. Steering was difficult at best. Perhaps Jim was too young to notice, but to me the foot pedals were the most confusing part of driving the car. They were nothing like a modern vehicle. Today’s cars have an accelerator and a brake pedal. Not the T.

From the left, pedals include the high/low clutch (push in to start, then let it out when you get to speed), the reverse pedal (press to go backwards), and the brake (note that it’s on the right, unlike the car you drive). Then there’s the emergency brake / clutch release lever. The whole thing reminds me of the class we took on how to Rumba. My feet are still dizzy.

Jim writes:

All the farm work was done with horses; plowing, planting, tilling, cutting hay, raking, stacking and hauling. The year before we sold the farm (1930) we had a hired hand. He went by the improbable name of Willie Handy. I can still see him now …

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Country School

Jim (r) and his step-father Einar in about 1953.

Jim (r) and his step-father Einar in about 1953.

If you’ve read this blog for very long you’ve seen stories similar to this one before. It seems that just about everyone in Jim’s generation told stories about one room schools. Most of my generation missed the opportunity, and there can’t be many left. Some think that home schooling can replicate the one room school learning environment, but there isn’t much that can bring back the daily grind of a horse-drawn sleigh in the winter.

How many blankets and burlap sacks would it take to keep warm for that long ride through the snow? I’ve heard stories about heating rocks on the cook stove and wrapping them in burlap to use as foot warmers. That’s more believable than the one about using rabbits or cats to keep warm.

My four block walk to Franklin School seems pretty tame by comparison.

Jim writes:

Many of the people I visit with in my age bracket state that they attended a small one room school in the country. I, too, am one of those in that group. The year was 1930 and the school had about twelve students from the first thru the eigth grades. It was heated by a coal stove and the further you sat from it  Continue reading

Saturday Matinee

By Unknown, on behalf of the Moore Theatre. Photo and retouching by Joe Mabel. [Public domain, Public domain or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Vaudeville Poster

There are two major themes to Jim’s letter this week. One involves the attempt religion makes to control people’s baser desires for entertainment and joy. The second theme goes straight to one of Jim’s favorite forms of entertainment … movies.

By the time I was ten years old the vaudeville feature of Saturday afternoon was long gone. We still had a wonderful time watching great movies, and the weekly serial. Many of these serials are available on YouTube. It is so fun to binge watch them, because you can see the difference between the situation at the cliff-hanger at the end of last weeks’ episode, and the opening “reenactment” of that cliff-hanger in this episode. What was impossible last week is a simple inconvenience this week.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life worked like that? Maybe the diagnosis of an incurable disease last week could turn into a common cold this week? It worked in the serials, why not in life?

I hope you enjoy this letter.

Jim writes:

Five acts of vaudeville straight from a recent Broadway engagement, a feature length film, a cartoon and an episode from the serial “Lone Ranger and Tonto” … all this packed into a three and one half hour Saturday afternoon at our one and only theatre.

During the summer of 1938 and admission was only 15¢! Every Saturday morning starting at 8 a.m. I beat rugs with a thing that resembled a huge fly swatter, cut grass with a push type reel mower, swept out the garage, washed windows and was kept busy until noon … all this for the princely sum of 45¢! The only problem I had was this was Rev. Rueben Davis and his wife Nora. It was at his house that I performed all these chores!

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