Henry James, nicknamed Jack, is a soft spoken fellow with an unmistakable Texas drawl who loves this Country enormously. A true American patriot, he is. It was a sincere pleasure spending time with Jack and his Visiting Angels care giver, Carmen Cabrera.
Jack was born June 23, 1923 in the cotton belt town of Irene, Texas, which is south of Fort Worth in Hill County where he grew up as a farm worker. After graduating from Rio Vista High School in 1939, Jack worked on an uncle’s cotton farm earning $1.00 per day. He diligently saved his money and he bought a yellow Model T Ford; it had a rumble seat and boy did this beauty attract the ladies. Later on, he attended Weatherford Community College for one semester. Jack recalls everyone constantly crowding around radios in those days listening to news about the Nazi’s marching across Europe. American patriotism was at its height and most young men were enlisting in one military branch or another including Jack and his buddies. There were so many enlistments that it took Jack 3 days to actually get into the U.S. Army.
You’re in the Army Now
On September 24, 1942, at age 20, Jack enlisted at Austin, Texas, and was sent to an induction station at nearby Dodd Field where he received his brand new olive drab wardrobe, a skin head haircut and multiple vaccinations. Next, Jack was sent to Kelly Field in Austin for Basic Training where he qualified for Officer Candidate School, but he wanted no part of being an officer unless it led him to becoming a pilot. Instead of participating in Basic Training he was assigned to oversee the motor pool; not exactly the direction he had hoped for, so he signed up for B-24 Liberator mechanics school hoping that it would lead to pilot training. But alas, Jack learned that his depth perception was lacking which meant he could not be a pilot. So he dedicated himself to learning everything possible about the four engine B-24 heavy bomber.
Jack’s next assignment took him to Louisiana for several months of schooling and then to Liberal Army Field in western Kansas, where the U.S. Army Corp established its B-24 Liberator pilot training and maintenance facility. One of Jack’s stand out memories arriving at Liberal was civilian “Rosie the Riveters” whistling and hooting at the young soldiers. Suddenly, missing out on becoming a pilot seemed less significant.
There were 18,188 Liberators produced for WWII which were constantly upgraded with improved engines, radar installations, increased firepower, bigger bomb loads, etc. Jack and his fellow mechanic’s responsibilities included miscellaneous upgrades, engine replacements, and informing new pilots of all things mechanical with their primary mission keeping B-24 Liberator Heavy Bombers combat ready. Jack served at Liberal Army Field throughout the remainder of WWII, which ended August 15 1945.
Back in the Lone Star
Jack and his wife Bettie Wilson met at an ice cream parlor in Houston, Texas and they were married May 31 1947 at the First Methodist Church in Houston and later they had one son and a daughter. After serving his country in the U.S. Army, Jack continued his education at the University of Houston and following graduation in 1949 he held numerous jobs including working for Braniff Airlines. Jack also received his real estate license, he owned an insurance company, managed a restaurant in Yellowstone National Park, and was a broker at a used car dealership. Jack officially retired in 1983 while living with Bettie in Houston, Texas.
Sadly, Bettie passed away in 2007, so Jack moved to Santa Clarita to live with his daughter Teresa. Along the way, one of Jack’s hobbies was sailing so he bought a sail boat. These days, he spends his time caring for the local birds, tinkering with mechanical things, and reading. He avoids watching television or going to the movies.
After talking with Jack and writing his story, it dawned on me that he exemplifies the Greatest Generation perfectly…..what a tough and rugged generation it was. Along with millions of Americans, Jack rallied to support his country’s fight to save our freedom; though he didn’t land the job he wanted, he strived to do all he could for our noble cause. And after the War, he didn’t feel victimized for serving his country; instead he got busy and made a good life for himself and his family. Jack & Bettie achieved the American dream.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.
This post was last modified on January 20, 2017, 1:37 pm