Jim was born October 29th, 1944 and left us all too early in a fatal aircraft crash on April 8th, 2002 – doing what he loved, flying. Buried at Arlington with full honors, Jim ‘Viva’ is survived by daughters Pam and Cathy and son Jim Jr.
An ROTC graduate of the University of Georgia, and an Air Force brat to boot, here’s some of Viva’s thoughts about flying and AC-119s along with some memories from his friends and family.
Jim wrote a poem 4 days before his death that captures his passion for flight. Jim’s son gave it to Doug Wohlgamuth at Jim’s burial and we read it at the 2002 Reunion as a fitting tribute to our friend. Jim titled it ‘Leaving’
I should like to die in the hope of spring when and where the robins race,
and clouds fly feathered in a clear blue sky.
It is then I should most unwillingly, reluctantly try to wave and wonder a whole, happy farewell and forever goodbye, amid the new garden and motherlode golden bounty of dandelions aplenty.
And perchance if that time is kind, as so often time can be there will be blooms and blossoms of fuchsia, pear, azalea, and cherry trees.
And in those all too fleeting moments
I can be comforted too; my forever time among them is to be.
Another of Jim’s talents was this huge, booming baritone voice he said was a gift he’d been given, to share with others. He shared his voice with us at our 2001 Reunion, singing rousing songs that brought joy to our ears and puffed our chests with pride for our country and our service.
During Vietnam, Jim went to Lt. Col. Mathews, our 18th SOS Commander, with cartoons he had compiled “from gunner and pilot, navigator and engineer, IO and ACM alike.” Jim wanted to present departing crewmembers with the cartoons in a book as a memento. He called it Order of the Stinger, with a cover sheet formatted like a formal award ‘Issued In Remembrance of Those Who Gave Their All’, with John Gillespie Magee’s poem ‘High Flight emblazoned on the front. Each one was inscribed with the individual’s name and tour of duty, and many Stingers still have that treasured tome – all signed on the cover page by Col. Mathews and presented before each of our ‘Sawadee’ flights back to the states. It was Jim’s tribute to the lessons we learned during our year there, and as he stated on the book’s Forward, “A profound respect to the living and the ability to laugh are what we hope this book leaves you with. Or if not, you could always nail it to your john door.” You might correctly gather that Jim was a self-declared maverick and proud of it – to say he had integrity ‘no matter what’ is an understatement.