12th Armored Division
Born August 15, 1925, in Wood River, Illinois
WWII service: 1944-1955
Throughout high school, Jim couldn’t wait to join the war effort. But his father, a WWI veteran, urged him not to rush into it. Finally, 19-year-old Jim arrived in Europe in October 1944, ready to drive Sherman tanks into combat across France and Germany. Within days, he faced the brutal realities of war: his battalion commander gruesomely killed by German anti-tank artillery and the officer who took his place, captured.
Sometimes the enemy was frustratingly out of reach: Jim once failed to bring down a low-flying German plane outside Munich despite shooting tracer bullets into the engine. Jim would always “wonder which one of Hitler’s henchmen managed to get away.” Sometimes the enemy was too close: Once Jim crawled with crew mates through machine gun fire to escape their damaged tank. “Then all of a sudden I had a pair of black boots in front of my nose,” he recalled. Captured and imprisoned by the Nazis, he was soon freed by advancing U.S. forces.
Jim’s tank was the first to plough through the fence of Dachau concentration camp during its 1945 liberation. But in recounting his war experiences, he always focused on the war as a powerful collective effort: “I was such a small pebble in a large stream of thousands and thousands of men who went to fight this war.”