Jim's Plant High School portrait (1957)
Like other boys his age Jim's main interest was athletics but he faced some obstacles in becoming a letter-man. "I was a frustrated sports guy," he admits. "Soaking wet I was 106 pounds. In my sophomore year at Plant High I went out for the junior varsity football team and stuck it out for about a year but I was just too light. I did play in one game, the last game of the 1957 season against Manatee High School. My coaches were very patient with me and it was a great learning experience that required team work and a solid work ethic (the two-a-day practices). At the end of the season my coach asked me if I was interested in becoming a trainer, which meant wrapping ankles, treating blisters, and giving out salt pills among other things. He told me that I wouldn't have to attend any required Physical Ed classes and that I could go on all the road games. That sealed it for me!!! For my Junior and part of my senior year I was the team trainer."Taking advantage of a special school program, Jim attended classes in the morning and worked afternoons at the Goodyear store on Franklin and Twiggs in downtown Tampa. In addition to the trademark Goodyear tires the store sold a variety of kitchen appliances. The money he earned was appreciated but the job was not stimulating and Jim's concern about his future became more of a distraction. "I didn't like my job at Goodyear. Every lunch hour I'd go to the Federal Courthouse where they had recruitment offices for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marines. I read their brochures and the recruiters all wanted me to enlist. Then one morning at Goodyear we had to go out to a woman's house and repossess her refrigerator. She was holding a baby and I opened up the fridge and it was filled with baby bottles. It got to me and I went home later and told my Mom I'd like to quit and join the service. I was nineteen."
Flat-top Jim in 1959
"….HERE I WAS THOUSANDS OF MILES FROM HOME…."
In September of 1960 Jim's mother signed a release for him to join the service and a month later he was off to an Army reception center in Jacksonville. "I excelled at basic training because Plant High football had made me hard as a rock," he explains. "I was in really good shape but only 125 pounds."
"When I got out of basic training I weighed 140. The Army gave me aptitude tests for three days. They would give me a picture of a hammer, a nail, a piece of wood, and a saw and ask me which went with what. Really tough stuff! They sent me to mechanics school because of my Goodyear experience. I hated mechanics school but got through it and then in January of '61 they put me on a boat to Furth, Germany, near Nuremberg. I went to the 561st First Quartermaster in the parts supply area. All that ten weeks of mechanics school went to waste because I never put a wrench to a truck. I sat behind a desk ordering parts and making trips around the city picking stuff up. So here I was thousands of miles from home and getting bored again."
(Jim in uniform - 1961)
Jim's tour was supposed last one year but concern over the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 prompted the U.S. Government to extend all military tours overseas and his one-year tour ended up being almost three years. His frustration with the supply job was relieved when the commanding officer asked if he wanted to go to radio-teletype school. The answer, of course, was YES!
Jim traveled throughout Europe during his off-duty time (1962)
Jim went to Bad Tolz, Germany and spent ten weeks learning Morse Code and the essentials of radio engineering. After a rigorous security check by the Army, Jim went to Group HQ in Stuttgart where he was assigned a high-security encryption job in a bunker fortified with steel bars and doors. The work was challenging and Jim enjoyed the increased pay. He bought his first car from a local Volkswagen dealer, a new green '63 V W Bug. "$1,200, brand spanking new and fully loaded," Jim grins. "And about $120 to have it Americanized with sealed-beam headlights. It was a great car and I shipped it back to the U.S. a month before I left the service."
Jim and his Army buddies with their spankin' new V.W. Bugs!
Capping Jim's time in Germany was an official visit by then-President John F. Kennedy. "President Kennedy was on a tour of Berlin, Cologne, Bonn, and Frankfurt. A friend and I drove to Frankfurt in his new '63 MG Midget to see if we could get a chance to see Kennedy. Needless to say, the security around him was intense and all we saw was his car. We were able to hear his speech on the base PA system, though." Jim missed another opportunity two months later to see President Kennedy during his historic visit to Tampa on November 18, 1963….four days prior to the President's assassination in Dallas.
Jim was discharged from the Army on September 11, 1963. He returned to the US via ship, got off the boat at Ft. Dix, took a bus to the nearby shipping docks and picked up his V W bug. "I paid the bill and drove off to Florida."